Inside the massive grassroots effort to get LGBTQ Ukrainians out of the country safely
By David Artavia
More than 3 million Ukrainians have been displaced across Europe since the onset of Russia's invasion — and among them are countless LGBTQ individuals who have come up against unique roadblocks as they’ve attempted to flee for safety.
That's especially true for transgender people, many of whom have passportsdisplaying only their assigned sex at birth, which creates issues when trying to cross the border, says Rain Dove, a London-based nonbinary model and activist leading a grassroots effort to get LGBTQ and other vulnerable people out of Ukraine.
"Even bombs outside their window have not shaken the homophobia out of people," Dove tells Yahoo Life via a video call from the Ukraine-Poland border.
In a little less than three weeks, Dove says, their newly formed grassroots organization, Safebow, has cobbled together a remarkable network of hundreds of volunteers while raising over $100,000. In partnership with local organizations, Dove (who uses the pronouns "they" and "them") says their team has been instrumental in the evacuations of nearly 4,000 people; Yahoo Life can verify at least 1,000 names, as seen in a spreadsheet shared by Safebow organizers.
"I'm working with some of the most incredible queer people on the ground," says Dove, who entered Ukraine through Poland in early March in hopes of forming a small rescue mission. "I'm humbled by them because they had been living this [fighting discrimination] their entire lives. It's just a little bit different because there are bombs now."
Part of what's fueling fear among many queer people, Dove explains, is the country's martial law prohibiting men between the ages of 18 and 60 from exiting the country, leaving many to fear they'll either be forced to fight or left to languish under Russian rule.
"In order for the military to work, you have to trust the people around you with your life. And these people couldn't do that during peacetime. Do you think they're going do that during wartimes?" asks Rain. "How do you trust that they're not going to send you to the front of the line, you know, to be picked off first? Because [as an LGBTQ person] you're the least cared about intersection of the society. Of course, they're going to want to leave." Certainly it's not true for all queer Ukrainians, some of whom say they are staying to take up arms exactly because of the fear of what might happen under Russian occupation.