Transgender people in Ukraine are facing discrimination and transphobia as they try to flee from invading Russian forces.

For months, Western officials reported that Russia has been planning an invasion of Ukraine that could begin at any moment – something Vladimir Putin has adamantly denied.

On 24 February, Putin’s attacked Ukraine with a series of missile strikesThe president’s move was the biggest act of aggression towards another country since World War Two.

Thousands of people have been fleeing the European country to seek safety from Russia’s relentless invasion.

Zi Faámelu is a 31-year-old trans woman currently living in Kyiv. Speaking to CBS News, she described the difficulties she has faced since the capital city has come under siege.

“Sometimes we think it’s just all a dream, that we’re stuck inside some kind of a video game. Because you just live in a quiet society, and then you hear bombings and you wake up to the sound of bombings,” she told the news outlet. “A few hours ago I heard bombings and my windows were shaking. … I’m literally scared for my life.”

A singer and former TV contestant for a popular Ukrainian talent show, Faámelu is also concerned for her safety as a transgender woman and is unable to leave the city.

“Like hundreds of trans people in Ukraine, I am a woman, but I have ‘male’ in my passport and on all my ID, so this is a war within a war. Ukrainian trans people were already fighting for their lives,” she told VICE.

“There are hundreds of us stuck like this, living miserable lives. We need some influence from abroad. We need people to write to their politicians and charities to help us.”

Access to trans healthcare is not straight forward in Ukraine. According to Human Rights Watch, the government requires transgender people to undergo psychiatric observation and must submit to gender reassignment surgery in order to get legal documents that aligned with their gender.

Faámelu described the process as “humiliating” to VICE and said she had seen people having to “stay in mental institutions for months, with psychological and physical tests to prove their gender.”

The concerns shared by Faámelu are echoed by other LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine.

“In Russia, LGBTQ people are persecuted,” Iulia, a teenage student in Kharkiv, told CBS News. “If we imagine that Russia occupies all of the Ukraine or just a big part of the country, they won’t allow us to exist peacefully and to fight for our rights as we are able to do that in Ukraine right now.”

Activists on the ground informed TGEU (Transgender Europe) that trans people with identification documents not matching their gender identity are unable to pass internal check-points.

Additionally, trans people are currently not allowed to leave Ukraine if they are of fighting age and either perceived as male or having an official “male” gender marker.

Trans women and non-binary people registered “male” at birth, as well as trans men, are considered “men” and, as a result, they may be deemed as potential recruits and are not allowed to leave Ukraine.

LGBTQ+ people recruited are likely at a greater risk of facing harassment and violence.

“As I come to terms with the violent invasion of my beautiful country, I also know that I want to stay and keep working for my community,” Shevchenko, chairperson of LGBTQ+ rights organisation Insight, said in a statement. “Hundreds of messages and calls from terrified LGBT+ people are reaching us daily. We can’t possibly deal with this tragedy on our own. We need help right now to relocate LGBT+ people to safer places, provide them with shelter, food and meet their most basic needs.”

“Since Russia attacked my country, we are living a nightmare, constantly surrounded by the sound of sirens and mortar fire. We have heard that Russian authorities intend to target LGBT+ activists here in Ukraine,” says Lenny Emson, Executive Director at KyivPride.

“Some media are even talking about a “kill list”. We are trying to organize and help our community as quickly as possible. But we need urgent help to provide emergency resources, evacuation logistics, and community support during this tragic war.”

Russia has a long history of persecuting members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Just last year, it formally banned same-sex marriage – despite it not being permitted there to begin with.

In 2013, the country banned homosexual “propaganda” aimed at minors with a new law, something which eventually became grounds for banning Pride marches and the display of rainbow flags.

OutRight Action International has launched a fundraiser to help LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine impacted by Russia’s invasion

Donations to OutRight Action International’s fundraiser for Ukraine can be made by clicking here.