The situation of Ukrainian trans people during the war

All Ukrainians suffer in one way or another from Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24. However, some vulnerable groups due to their peculiarities also face additional challenges. Trans people are among such groups.

Like the rest, trans people were caught by the war in different places and under different circumstances. While some were in relatively safe areas, others found themselves in combat zones, sometimes directly under shelling and bombing. These circumstances, along with personal possibilities and motivations, influenced whether people tried to evacuate to safer places or stayed where they lived.

Trans people who decided to move abroad have faced the fact that it is forbidden to leave the country during martial law for men from 18 to 60 with some exceptions, according to current Ukrainian legislation. The very expediency of such restriction can be questioned. Firstly, it only contributes to the consolidation of traditional gender roles, although in recent years the Ukrainian army has taken a course to ensure that women have equal opportunities with men. Secondly, with volunteers making long queues at military enlistment offices, forced retention of people with low motivation for military service hardly makes sense.

In the case of trans people, this restriction is particularly discriminatory, as trans women who have not yet changed their gender marker are considered men. Moreover, there are known cases when border guards did not let through a trans woman who already had a female marker in her passport, just because they learned about her trans status.

At the same time, to have a document on unfitness for military service is a sufficient reason to not be banned from leaving the country. The diagnosis of F64.0 “Transsexualism” is a formal criterion of unfitness according to the order of the Ministry of Health, but only in peacetime and not in wartime.

In some cases, trans persons were able to obtain deregistration based on this diagnosis and then cross the border. However, the decision is made in each case by the medical commission at the military enlistment office, which can take into account individual circumstances regarding the state of health, so the presence of a trans diagnosis is not decisive by itself.

Trans people who have arrived in other countries, in addition to all the typical difficulties for refugees, face the problem of access to hormonal drugs.

In Ukraine, although formally hormones should be provided under prescription, they can often be purchased freely. In other words, the presence or absence of a diagnosis or recommendation by an endocrinologist is not critical to get them. However, EU countries usually strictly require a prescription. At the same time, legalizing a diagnosis that was set in Ukraine, and especially obtaining one from scratch, takes time, while the need for hormones is urgent. International and local LGBT+ organizations help to meet this need partially, although their abilities vary from country to country.

As for the trans people who stay in Ukraine, it is worth saying that they are generally less visible. To some extent, the discourse formed by the Western media and organizations, presenting evacuation for trans people as a default option in their focus, has contributed to this.

At the same time, like any other people, trans people may have different reasons to stay: unwillingness to leave their home; circumstances that complicate the possibility of leaving; responsibilities that keep them in place (for example, sick parents or relatives who need care); estimation of the level of danger as low; finally, their endeavor to be part of the resistance to the Russian occupants.

There is also a category of trans people who relocated within Ukraine, usually from dangerous regions of the East to the safer West. If they do not have anyone to stay with, they face an increased risk of discrimination – refusal to stay or rent an apartment if their trans status becomes known, and risk of transphobic treatment. Therefore, Insight NGO opened shelters in Lviv and Chernivtsi as safe spaces for LGBT+ people, including trans people. There is a similar shelter in Uzhhorod.

The problem of the availability of hormonal drugs has emerged in Ukraine too, but for different reasons. Many pharmacies stopped working from the very first day of the full-scale war, and online pharmacy systems often showed incorrect information.

Along with limited public transport and sometimes huge queues in the remaining pharmacies, this created a situation where buying the necessary hormones became difficult, even if you have enough money.

Later on, the situation improved in many parts of Ukraine. However, it remains difficult in settlements where or near which military actions are going on, so supplies are impossible and even humanitarian convoys are blocked by Russian troops in some places. There are also problems in the settlements suffered from the military actions, in the areas with the damaged infrastructure, and those currently under occupation.

The same or even greater difficulties arise if a person needs to see a doctor – in particular, to obtain a diagnosis or consult with an endocrinologist. While the problem of a lack of qualified professionals existed before the big war too, now it is often physically impossible to visit the needed specialist, and the option of online consultation is not always available and not always suitable.

Trans people are one of the groups at increased risk of losing their jobs and income during the war, of losing a livelihood.

In addition to general circumstances, such as the suspension of an enterprise due to military actions or other war-related causes, there is the difficulty of finding a job due to trans status. LGBT+ organizations are trying to compensate for this situation partially by providing humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately, there is actually no information on the situation of trans people who are in the temporarily occupied territories now. While the problems of access to hormones and medical specialists are also there with their peculiarities, those may be the smallest compared to the level of violence by the occupants.

Given the facts of such violence already known in the territories that have been under occupation and the traditionally high level of homophobia and transphobia among Russians, trans people in such territories are in deadly danger.

It is worth mentioning that some trans people not only stayed where they live but also took an active position. There are known cases of them joining the ranks of the territorial defense and the Armed Forces of Ukraine. There are no regulations in Ukraine that take into account the particular needs of trans people in military service, so they may have problems from the very access to the hormones to the use of shared gendered (and shared in general) spaces. Nowadays, such issues are resolved only situationally on an individual basis, and the risk to face transphobia depends on the specific situation too.

In addition to direct participation in military resistance, many trans people manifest patriotic attitudes in various ways. Some by volunteering or supporting volunteers, some by activity in social networks and other platforms of the information front. Finally, trans people regularly involved in activism or working in LGBT+ organizations mostly continue such activities, which from the beginning of the full-scale war are focused on the LGBT+ community support and other volunteer aid to victims of war and soldiers as well.

If you are a trans person who needs help during the war, you can contact Insight in the following ways:
Inna Iryskina, Transgender program coordinator of Insight NGO