Gay soldier Viktor Pylypenko is on the front line in Ukraine (Photo: Treasure Island Media)
Less than a month ago, Viktor Pylypenko lived a peaceful life raising awareness of gay rights issues in Ukraine. Now he’s on the front line of a war, dodging Russian forces who may be out to capture and kill him.
In an interview with Treasure Island Media, 35-year-old soldier Viktor has spoken about the additional threat he faces from Russian forces due to his position as a gay rights activist.
US officials have even warned that Russia has compiled a ‘hit list’ of people like Viktor they want captured or killed.
“I am an LGBT activist in the military,” he says. “They can arrest my parents, torture them or kill them. So I am really afraid for my parents and I am trying to convince them they should leave but they don’t want to.
“I’m afraid of captivity. If they capture me, I will be tortured and killed in a very brutal manner, especially if I am captured by Chechens. There will be no mercy. I think I would rather kill myself than give myself into captivity.”
Viktor spoke via Zoom from an undisclosed location on the front line in Ukraine during a relatively peaceful moment in between fighting.
Viktor’s life was also peaceful until Russia invaded his country last month. A trained soldier, he is the leader of a group for Ukraine’s gay military men, and over the years made huge steps in improving the attitude towards LGBT people in Ukraine.
But as the Russian invasion now rages on, those same gay Ukrainian troops are fighting in defense of their country.
“The first night when Putin attacked with missiles I arrived to the military commissariat as a volunteer,” he says.
“It was a real disaster because nobody expected it to happen. I know it sounds weird – there were 170,000 Russians on our borders, but nobody understood how mad Putin is. But still he did it.
“Now Russians are dying by hundreds. They are invading by columns and Ukrainian side is effectively exterminating these columns. They are bringing more and more military men as cannon-meat for slaughter. Ukrainian soldiers are also dying but in much lesser quantity.
“We [are] very angry about the bombings of peaceful cities. We are furious about that. It gives us drive to fight.”
On the front line, Viktor has seen those losses first hand. He’s both an infantryman and a medic, often battling to save the lives of his squadmates.
“Recently we had a shelling of our positions,” Viktor says. “There were two guys. One received a wound in his leg. Second guy I couldn’t save because his wound was really great. There was a piece of shell which hit the back of his skull. He literally vomited his brain out of his mouth. We couldn’t save him.”
A leading gay rights campaigner who has himself seen the brutality of the Russian regime praised the heroism of Viktor and his fellow gay soldiers. Peter Tatchell was beaten and arrested in Moscow in 2007 for protesting a ban on the country’s gay pride parade.
The British campaigner said: “It is inspiring that LGBTs are joining the fight against Russian imperialist aggression. Gay soldiers like Viktor are helping to debunk myths and stereotypes about LGBTs being weak, immoral and not true Ukrainians.
“Hopefully, their heroism will help break down prejudice and win new respect and rights for LGBT+ people. It is sickening the way Russian propaganda is attacking the recruitment of gay soldiers by Ukraine and using it to smear and besmirch the Ukrainian war effort.
“Ukrainian LGBT+ soldiers rightly fear that Putin will impose homophobic persecution, like already exists in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbass.
“They know about the jailing, torture and murder of LGBTs in the Russian republic of Chechnya, with Putin’s collusion. Reports that LGBTs are on a Russian ‘detain and kill’ list, along with Ukrainian political figures, are very worrying.”