Kyiv, Ukraine – Some LGBTQ people in Ukraine are fearing targeted human rights abuses if Russia occupies the country.
"That would mean a direct threat to me and especially, well, to me and to the person I love," Iulia, an 18-year-old law student, told CBS News. She is training to be a lawyer in Kharkiv, an eastern city that could be a primary target for Russia if it launches a wider invasion of the country. She wants to use her degree to fight for LGBTQ rights in Ukraine.
|LGBTQ+ activists march in the Ukrainian|
capital during Kyiv Pride 2021
"In Russia, LGBTQ people are persecuted," she said. "If we imagine that Russia occupies all of the Ukraine or just a big part of the country, they won't allow us to exist peacefully and to fight for our rights as we are able to do that in Ukraine right now."
Russia formally banned same-sex marriage in 2021 — even though it hadn't been allowed there anyway — and it passed a law against so-called "gay propaganda" in 2013, which made it illegal to equate same-sex and heterosexual relationships or promote gay rights.
"Ukraine is a European country. We have a 10-year history of Pride marches, and as you know, in Russia, the situation is like opposite," Edward Reese, project assistant for Kyiv Pride, told CBS News. "We have totally different paths. ... We see the changes in people's thoughts about human rights, LGBTQ, feminism and so on. ... So definitely we don't want anything connected to Russia … and we won't have them."
Iulia said that while Ukraine still has a long way to go, it was making real progress in terms of acceptance of LGBTQ people.
"We still have a lot of things to do about our rights and our freedoms, but in Ukraine, you can fully express yourself," Ilulia told CBS News, explaining that although Ukraine doesn't allow same-sex marriage either, she believes it is only a few years away.
"It's much more safer than in Russia, believe me. It's much easier," she said.
A 33-year-old freelance illustrator based in Kyiv, also named Ilulia, told CBS News that she doesn't believe Russia will carry out a complete invasion all of Ukraine, because she believes the Ukrainian army will stand strong.
"I'm a bit panicking, but like just a bit. I'm very confident in our army. A lot of Ukrainians are donating now to our army, not just financially but also donating blood," she said.
If Russia did take over the country, which she says would be the worst-case scenario, "I would try not to be caught, basically because, you know, even my Twitter profile, it's enough for them to imprison me. And imprisonment is the best thing that could happen to me in this situation."
Reese, of Kyiv Pride, said that the LGBTQ community in Ukraine was organizing to support the army to fight against any Russian threat. The group even recently offered a first-aid course to its members to be able to help if necessary.
"We have fear, because it's natural, but we don't panic. We donate to the army. I know that like yesterday, the fund to support Ukrainian army, which is helping our army, has reached a maximum in its history for donations. And the Kyiv Pride also posted the call to donate, and I know that LGBT people did it. And I myself donated also for the medical battalions," Reese said.
"We actually don't believe that it will happen, but if it happens, I'm sure that many of the LGBTQ people and me, myself, we won't flee the country and we will fight and destroy it."
Iulia from Kharkiv said that despite the Russian threat, she was hopeful about the future for Ukraine and for its LGBTQ community.
"When this whole story is finished, and when Russia is done with terrorizing us, I think that we will soon legalize same-sex marriage. I think it must be about to happen," she said. " And yes, I think that I will have a very, very good and comfortable future living in Ukraine as an LGBTQ person."