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Trans Women Attempting to Flee Ukraine Are Being Turned Away

Ukrainian trans women and non-binary people are being trapped in their war-torn country by guards who consider them men.

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Photo: Efrem Lukatsky (AP)

It’s been one month since Russian forces have invaded Ukraine, forcing millions of refugees to cross its borders and seek safety in neighboring countries like Poland. However, certain categories of citizens are reportedly being denied exit—namely, men, transgender women and non-binary people. This leaves the latter two categories especially vulnerable during a war in a region of the world that already does not tolerate their existence.

In February, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service announced that men between the ages of 18 and 60 were prohibited from leaving the country. But in recent weeks, as women and children flee the country every day en masse, dozens of trans and non-binary people have said they’re being subjected to extensive and “humiliating” searches and, ultimately, turned away by border agents for being men, despite their legal status stating otherwise. One woman said a guard told her she should be grateful he didn’t call the police after turning her away, though the documents she showed him identified her as a woman.

For those trans women who still have documentation that identifies them as male or includes their deadname, some human rights group have advised them to “lose their IDs” in order to flee, or they will be trapped in the deadly war.

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Currently, many trans and non-binary people that have remained in the country have continued to take shelter alongside other citizens in fear for their lives. They increasingly fear that there is nowhere safe to go, given the disdain for LGBTQ+ people, not only in Ukraine and Russia, but also in the neighboring countries wherein many have already found refuge.

Their worries are not unfounded. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Ukraine is ranked 39 of the 49 European countries for its overall treatment of LGBTQ+ people. Gay marriage is still illegal in Ukraine, as the Christian Orthodox Church considers homosexuality a sin, and apart from a 2015 labor law being amended to ban discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, very few protections actually exist—particularly for trans people in the country. While trans citizens have been legally recognized since 2017, they’re required to undergo psychiatric observation among other processes before their gender can be changed on formal documents.

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As for Russia, Putin has always been vocally anti-LGBTQ+, even calling gender fluidity “a crime against humanity” and equating homosexuality with pedophilia. Even across the border in Poland, where flocks of Ukrainians have sought safety, “anti-LGBTQ+ zones” have been enacted across the country.

Many trans and non-binary people say they worry that it’s only a matter of time before Russian soldiers resort to violence or torture. The Washington Post reported late last month that according to the U.N., Russian forced have included “LGBTQI+ persons” on lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”