With the invasion of Ukraine by Russia still dragging on, more and more Ukrainians are signing up to fight against their attackers. One couple in particular has recently gained attention after donning the “unicorn insignia” and joining the war efforts to fight against both Russia and Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay culture.
Oleksandr Zhuhan and Antonina Romanova (who is non-binary and uses she/her pronouns) signed up to fight after spending the first two days of the invasion hiding out in their bathroom, and realizing they had a difficult decision in front of them.
Despite coming from theater backgrounds with no weapons training, they joined the Territorial Defense and are now on their second three month tour as the fighting rages on.
Both were stationed in the same unit, and said that they’ve had no issues with homophobia from the other fighters, despite a slight adjustment period for some folks.
“There was no aggression, no bullying… It was a little unusual for the others,” Romanova said. “But over time, people started calling me Antonina, some even used my ‘she’ pronoun.”
As they joined their second unit, the tone was similar, with one commander denouncing homophobia to the group at the start.
While fighting, Romanova and Zhuhan have taken up a recent tradition among LGBTQ+ Ukrainian fighters by adding the insignia of a unicorn to their uniforms, a way of pushing back against the idea that there are no LGBTQ+ people in the army.
“It dates back to 2014 when the Russian war started. Lots of people said there are no gay people in the army,” Zhuhan explained. “They chose the unicorn because it is like a fantastic ‘non-existent’ creature. And so it became the symbol of LGBTQ people in the army.”
Russia has become an inhospitable place for the LGBTQ community under Putin’s reign, to put it lightly. Bans against gay “propaganda” have been in place throughout the country for some time, allowing for broad interpretation and a dampening of queer culture, all under the guise of protecting minors.
There is much that Ukrainians stand to lose if Russia succeeds in overtaking the country, but for Zhuhan and Romanova, and all the other LGBTQ+ people who have called Ukraine home, there’s something even more at stake.
“Because what Russia does is they don’t just take our territories and kill our people,” Zhuhan said. “They want to destroy our culture and… we can’t allow this to happen.”