Until mid-February, Antonina Romanova was a performance artist at a theater in Kyiv and directed productions there. Then came Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. On the second day, Antonina and her partner Saschko, also a theater director, joined the territorial defense in Kyiv. Neither had any military experience.
“The first time we picked up a machine gun was two months ago,” Antonina writes via Facebook. “In the beginning we were scared. But now it’s not like that anymore. People get used to everything.”
Antonina’s news is quite harrowing testimony to the war – and an expression of how strong the Ukrainians’ struggle for survival is. “The first few days were tough,” says Antonina. They weren’t prepared, they weren’t well equipped either, they had the wrong clothes. Then they got military training – “and a lot of help from the volunteers. Volunteers are superheroes who do a lot for Ukrainian soldiers.”
Her shift starts at 5:30 am and lasts until 10:00 pm. “Every day,” writes Antonina. At first they guarded warehouses, but now they work in the kitchen and feed about a hundred people.
Antonina and Sashko belong to an NGO of LGBTIQ people in the Ukrainian military, which is very active on social media. Among other things, they took part in the “Arm Ukraine Now” campaign and posted pictures that were supposed to persuade the governments of other countries to supply arms to Ukraine. One of the NGO’s pictures was even shared by President Zelenskyy. Antonina can also be seen on one: in a camouflage suit in front of rainbow colors, a gun slung over her shoulders.
Over 120 people are members of the queer NGO, soldiers from all over Ukraine. “As we are stationed in different parts of Ukraine, this group helps us come together and support each other,” says Antonina.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian army is not yet very tolerant: “There is still a lot of sexism, homophobia and transphobia.” So her commander Antonina forbade using the pronoun “she”. “But I took the callsign ‘Antonina’ for myself.”
Despite all the difficulties, it is important for Antonina to be openly queer in the military. “I think the situation is getting better every year. And it’s definitely better than our crappy neighbor’s.” That means Russia, of course, and crappy is another fairly harmless translation of the word Antonina actually means.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” writes Antonina at the end. “I beg you, help the Ukrainian army in any way you can today. We are fighting for our freedom and yours.”