Metro Weekly

Out Ukrainian Soldiers Don Unicorn Patch on Uniforms

LGBTQ soldiers are wearing the patch as a symbol of pride and defiance towards Russia’s anti-LGBTQ regime.

A Ukrainian soldier’s “unicorn” patch – Photo: Twitter.

Ukrainian soldiers are wearing their pride on their chest with a unicorn patch as an act of defiance against Russia and the country’s attempted erasure of LGBTQ+ people.

Out LGBTQ soldiers currently fighting for Ukraine’s sovereignty from Russia have been donning unicorn patches to signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russia as a whole, that they won’t be silenced. 

Back in 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. During that invasion, there was an overwhelming push by the Russian military to remove anyone from its ranks who identified as a part of the LGBTQ community.

The Crimean Peninsula has historically been one of the few safe spots in Eastern Europe to be LGBTQ. But advocates worry that if Russia is successful in its most recent invasion, anti-LGBTQ laws will be imposed in the seized territories.

Same-sex marriage is banned in Russia, and the country adopted a law in 2013 banning so-called “gay propaganda” — defined as any information that presents homosexuality as a normal occurrence in nature, or presents LGBTQ relationships or identity in a positive or even neutral light. The law applies to all ages, though proponents claim they adopted it in order to “protect minors” from being exposed to such information. 

Russia’s government has also failed to take action to stop human rights violations in Chechnya, an autonomous Muslim-majority region within the country where LGBTQ people, primarily gay and bisexual men, have been arrested and detained against their will, tortured, and in some cases, even killed.

As Ukrainian soldiers fight back against the Russian incursion, the Ukrainian army has given out unicorn patches to LGBTQ soldiers as a symbol of solidarity with the community. The practice dates back to the 2014 invasion, when Russia bragged that there were “no gay people” in its army – a propaganda tactice intended to make themselves seem “stronger” and more virile to homophobic elements in society and intimidate their enemies.

“Lots of people said there are no gay people in the army,” volunteer fighter Oleksandr Zhuhan told NBC News.  “So they (the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community) chose the unicorn because it is like a fantastic ‘nonexistent’ creature.”

During their first tour fighting in Crimea three months ago, Zhuhan and his partner, Antonina Romanova, who identifies as non-binary, explained how it felt being out and fighting for their country. 

“There was no aggression, no bullying… It was a little unusual for the others. But, over time, people started calling me Antonina, some even used my ‘she’ pronoun,” Romanova said.

They explained in an interview with Reuters that in their unit, homophobia was not tolerated, with a senior officer telling the couple: “The only important thing on the front line is to be a good fighter.”

As the couple prepares to return to battle in the Donbas Region of Eastern Ukrtaine, where Russia recently gained control of the city of Severodonetsk, they reflect on how the fight for Ukrainian independence is especially important to other “unicorn” soldiers.

“[W]hat Russia does is they don’t just take our territories and kill our people. They want to destroy our culture,” Zhuhan said. “We can’t allow this to happen.”

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