By Anna Yakutenko.
Editor’s Note: The “Journalism of Tolerance” project is made possible by the support of the American people through the U. S. Agency for International Development and Internews. Content is independent of the donors.
When five years ago Katerina Svidnitska was in a hospital visiting her newborn daughter Varya, none of her colleagues even knew where she was — they had no idea Svidnitska had been expecting a child. She had never been pregnant. Instead, her life partner Natalia Moskovchenko was having their child.
Svidnitska recalls that at that time she would not have dared to reveal to her colleagues that she had a child with her lesbian partner. To explain why she looked like she hadn’t slept all night, which was true due to the newborn, Svidnitska used to make up creative excuses.
Now both Svidnitska, 35, who runs a sushi shop, and Moskovchenko, 37, who works for a charity fund, are open about their family at work, but still avoid publicity.
“Same-sex couples with kids remain a very closed group. You’re not afraid about yourself, but about your children’s safety,” Moskovchenko said, hugging her three-and-a-half-year-old son Nikita.
While Moskovchenko gave birth to Varya, Nikita was born to Svidnitska, and now brother and sister call both women their moms. The children were born from anonymous sperm donors.
During the interview, which took place at the couple’s apartment in Kyiv on June 29, Varya and Nikita mostly watched cartoons and played in the living room. From time to time, the kids would drop into the kitchen to give a hug to their mothers.
The couple met around 10 years ago on the internet, and almost immediately moved in together, because Moskovchenko’s apartment had burned down in an accidental fire. They said that they both knew they wanted to have children from the beginning of their relationship, but waited for several years to earn enough money.
The couple found a doctor in an artificial insemination clinic through their friends. They deliberately chose an anonymous donor to defend themselves from possible attempts by the biological father to take the children away from them.
Despite being open about their family with relatives and friends, Moskovchenko was the only one from her family who attended this year’s Kyiv Pride on June 18, a march of around 4,000 people in Kyiv in support of the rights of the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT).
They said they were worried about their children’s safety. Although nobody was hurt during the march, there were reports later that day that several participants were followed and attacked after the march.
“Staying safe and sound is our duty to our children,” Svidnitska said.
Ukrainian law prevents gay couples from adopting children, so the couple don’t have legal rights to each other’s kids — if something happens to Moskovchenko, Svidnitska won’t get custody of her daughter, and vice versa.
According to the couple, Ukrainian society still lacks tolerance of LGBT people. They said they “had been lucky” not to have suffered any violence against them.
Importantly, both women have the support of their parents, who maintained good relationships with their daughters after they came out as gay.
“My mother loves to boast that she has four wonderful grandchildren: two from me and two from my brother,” Svidnitska said.
But this is rather an exception than the rule. Svidnitska and Moskovchenko said that they knew gay couples with children who were still hiding their homosexuality from their parents.
According to the women, almost all of the gay couples with kids they know are ones in which both partners are female, as same-sex male families with children are much more reluctant to reveal their status. It’s also harder for gay men to get a baby, because they have to find a surrogate mother to give birth to their kid.
Svidnitska and Moskovchenko said that the human rights situation in Ukraine has improved lately, but neither of them expects Ukraine’s government to allow gay marriages soon.
According to Article 51 of the Ukrainian Constitution, a marriage is defined only as a “consenting union of a man and a woman.”
The inability to officially register their relationships creates more legal troubles for Ukrainian gay couples.
Living together, they don’t share ownership of common property, they don’t get to automatically inherit their partner’s property in the case of death, they can’t receive alimony, and they cannot act as their partner’s trustee or representative in a court.
Although LGBT activists in Ukraine have held various conferences on artificial insemination, there is very little information available on raising a child in a same-sex family. Svidnitska and Moskovchenko know around five lesbian couples who have children, but all of these children are younger than their daughter.
The women have been trying to organize a meeting for gay couples with children to share their experience, but so far they have failed, either because people are concerned about their safety, or because they say they don’t have time.
Among the topics that Svidnitska and Moskovchenko want to discuss with other parents is their children’s interactions with other kids in kindergartens and schools.
Both Svidnitska and Moskovchenko were a little concerned when their daughter Varya went to a kindergarten, but they haven’t experienced any prejudice from teachers or other parents.
First, they wanted to ask their daughter not to go into details about their family life, but they later changed their mind.
“I didn’t want her to lie to anyone or hide anything,” Moskovchenko said. “If you ask children not to talk about something, they might think that there is something wrong with it.”
Varya loves to tell her peers and other people about her family, which, according to her, includes her two moms, a brother, a cat, grandparents and “up to 40 other members, including their friends’ dogs.”
“She thinks that her family is everyone who loves her,” Moskovchenko said.
Both mothers are confident that their children will be fine at school because they have strong support at home.
“You can’t protect your child from everything (bad),” said Moskovchenko. “All you can do is to show that you love them for who they are, no matter what.”
(Banner photo: Lesbian life partners Katerina Svidnitska and Natalia Moskovchenko stand in the playground in Kyiv on June 29 with their son Nikita and daughter Varya. The women did not want their faces photographed out of fear for their children’s safety. Photo by Oleg Petrasiuk)