Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians from all walks of life have upended their lives to safeguard distinctly democratic values such as pluralism, tolerance and inclusion. NDI partners BBC Media Action and the Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne have launched a documentary series, “Vydymi” (“Visible”), highlighting the work of women and LGBTQI+ Ukrainians in wartime. By showcasing the important work that women and LGBTQI+ Ukrainians are carrying out during the war, the series highlights the value of inclusion and demonstrates the important roles minority groups play in even the most intense of times.
The “Vydymi” project consists of ten documentary short films highlighting women and LGBTQI+ people who chose to volunteer, become part of the military or advance democratic values through activism and advocacy amid the continued Russian full-scale war against Ukraine. From volunteer, Vlad Shast and volunteer Irena Skakun, who rescues animals from deoccupied regions, to the creators of the Deocupage project raising funds to establish a social center for war veterans, each film protagonist offers an optimistic vision of Ukraine’s future – and knows how to get there through daily acts of service to society.
Tetyana Mordach, a sapper diver, says, “I understand that there’s a war going on, and someone needs to do this job so that people are safe. Someone needs to extract those explosives from the area to demine it.” Her colleagues say, “She absolutely proved that women can do this job.” Until 2017, women were barred from a number of high-risk professions, including deep-water diving and sapper diving. Since women’s rights activists successfully pushed for the ban to be lifted, the option to join the emergency services as a diver became available for Tetyana, who dreamt of joining the military or related occupations since her young age.
Then, there’s the story of Pavlo Lagoyda and Vlad Polischuk, a gay couple now serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, separated by many miles and different service locations. Public approval of equality has significantly increased in Ukraine, in part as the organization Ukrainian LGBTIQ+ Military for Equal Rights – an NDI partner – published numerous stories of openly out gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people serving in the army. “We want homosexual couples to have families and equal rights.” – says Vlad. Yet, Pavlo and Vlad are still unable to legalize their union, lacking access to spousal survivor benefits and other legal attributes of civil partnerships. Lawyer Mariia Klyus and MP Inna Sovsun, highlighted in one of the “Vydymi” films, are working to change this. They introduced a draft law on registered partnerships into Ukraine’s parliament, a piece of legislation which, if voted on, would allow same-sex couples to formalize their relationship.
Every one of the films provides a unique and inspiring profile, with soulful storytelling and an insight into the lives of Ukrainians who are fighting for their rights – and for victory. “We just wanted to be proud of this project, of those videos. And I hope you’re proud.” – says Mykyta Mekenzin, camera operator and director at Cofounder production company.
Ukraine increasingly accepts these communities as all Ukrainians fight for democracy and freedom. For democracy to thrive, the values and needs of every population must be heard and supported, and everyone must be treated as a valued member of society. By highlighting the often underappreciated roles that women and the LGBTIQ+ community play, “Vydymi” hopes to build on the progress being made in Ukraine and strengthen Ukraine's democracy and future.
The “Vydymi” documentary series is available on the Suspilne YouTube channel.
Authors: Svitlana Iukhymovych, Khrystyna Bila from NDI’s Ukraine team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.