As Ukraine’s Civil War raged on against pro-Russian forces in the east of the country, photographer Anton Shebetko wanted to try and represent some of the LGBTI soldiers who had experienced the front line.
A gay man who from Ukraine, Shebetko knew all too well the discrimination and abuse the LGBTI community faced in his home nation.
This was one of the motivating factors behind his reason to represent LGBTI people who were fighting and dying for their country.
‘I wanted to rethink artistically their experience and dual identities of both military patriots and representatives of LGBT,’ Shebetko told the Kyiv Post.
His poignant new photography exhibition We are here does just that.
The exhibition, which is currently showing cultural center Izone in Kiev, combines powerful imagery, placing militaristic iconography alongside LGBTI symbology.
In one portrait, a soldier fully clad in a sniper’s camouflage ghillie suit grasps the Ukrainian national flag while standing in front of a larger Pride flag.
— Kate Bond (@katebonduk) 28 August 2018
As with many of the photographs, the soldier’s face is covered – many of the LGBTI troops who are featured chose to remain anonymous, and a high number had yet to come out to their families or friends.
One of the few former soldiers exhibited to reveal his identity is Viktor Pylypenko, who fought with Donbas battalion in 2014–16.
Initially having his face hidden in his portraits, Pylypenko later shared his photos online while also coming out as gay.
After coming out, he said most of his former comrades-in-arms were supportive.
‘I decided to make my life more real and maybe help other people who are reproached and humiliated for no reason too, and to show to my country that there are gay people at the front,’ he said.
The photography exhibition detailing LGBTI soldiers carries extra poignancy in Ukraine.
Homophobia is rife in the country, with many from the LGBTI community susceptible to chronic discrimination and abuse.
Over recent years, several pride marches have faced threats by anti-LGBTI extremeists attemting to distubt the parades.
Ukraine was ranked 36 out of 49 countries in Europe and Western Asia for LGBTI rights in an ILGA-Europe survey from earlier this year.
We are here is currently being exhibited at the cultural center Izone, and will run until Oct. 7.