Love, intimacy and sex are casualties of Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Opinion

KYIV, Ukraine – With his sturdy build, black hair and easy smile, Vlad had little trouble finding around 200 matches on Tinder in Kharkiv before his military unit broke up in a city- large eastern Ukraine, while turning on the dating app from his position on the front lines.

Admittedly a lower number than his halcyon prewar days in Kyiv, when Vlad claimed to have compiled a record of 1,238 Tinder matches. But after nine months in the army, he was excited at the prospect of a quick hookup.

When he met his dates at a cafe in Kharkiv, however, Vlad found his usual charm abandoned. As his dating profile says, Vlad’s unit is among those fighting in the “gray zone,” a part of the area outside the front lines where the most dangerous operations are carried out. the making The death and destruction in his daily life weighed on him, and he was incapable of the kind of conversation that is often a prerequisite for intimacy.

The bride was tired. The wedding party had rifles and RPGs.

“I didn’t have the energy to have a conversation beyond, ‘How are you?,'” said Vlad, 30, who spoke on condition that his last name not be used so he could for him to talk openly about his sex life. “We start, ‘Hello; How are you doing?’ – and nothing happens after that. For me, it was a lot of energy to continue this conversation. I didn’t have it.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has consumed almost every aspect of daily life here, creating, to put it mildly, problems more pressing than Vlad’s dating life. The country is facing economic collapse. Air raid sirens warn daily of Russian bombing, and Ukrainian troops are locked in a merciless struggle for territory in the east.

But intimacy has been another casualty. Interviews with more than a dozen soldiers, soldiers’ partners, psychologists, sex shop owners and others in Ukraine show that the truth is far darker than Hollywood’s wartime romances.

“When you’re there, you’re always sheltered – there’s adrenaline and constant stress and injured friends and concussions. You see death, all kinds of death, and you can only handle it for so long,” said Kyrylo Dorolenko, 36, a young lieutenant in the Ukrainian army.

Dorolenko said that he and his men sometimes set up dates when they get a break from frontline duties. But, he said, “You don’t have enough time to change your reality to be calm, emotional and loving.”

Perhaps at the beginning of the war there was a kind of pleasure in the bold face of Ukraine, said Alexander Kolomiychuk, a sex therapist in Kyiv.

That spread quickly. What took place, Kolomiychuk said, was the psychological weight of the countless traumas of the war – up to 100,000 soldiers killed or wounded; more than 5 million Ukrainian civilians forced from their homes and turned into refugees; more than 10 million now across the country facing a humanitarian disaster.

“It’s a real trauma, and trauma and romance don’t go together,” Kolomiychuk said. “When people have trouble living, they don’t think about intimacy, sex, because it’s about pleasure, leisure … In war, there’s no time for pleasure. There’s no time for leisure.”

Soldiers in particular are often forced to suppress their emotions in a war zone, said Casey Taft, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine who works with veterans and their partners. War forces service members to push away fears, anxieties or depression. And when they return home, they may have a difficult time expressing themselves to their spouses or romantic partners, Taft said.

War zone trauma can also cause a kind of “survival mode thinking,” he said.

“You have this sense of trusting other people,” Taft said. Sometimes this can lead veterans to accuse their partners of cheating on them, he said. “When a service member comes home, it’s hard to turn off that survival mode.”

Inside the Ukraine Offensive That Stunned Putin and Reshaped the War

Despite the defeat, the Ukrainians have found ways to preserve the affairs of the heart in the midst of the war.

At least a handful of Ukrainian soldiers have gotten married while on break, with the marriage of one decorated female Ukrainian sniper on the front lines circulating widely on social media.

Ukrainian women have fallen in love with some of the foreign fighters who came to Ukraine to join the war against Russia. Many Ukrainians say they have accelerated major life milestones during the war – breaking up; commitments; new relationships.

Genia Aslanian, 32, from Kyiv, broke up with her boyfriend, Anton, in 2019 because he wanted to move to Canada to attend flight school there. “We were so devastated. We were so stupid, and let unimportant things pull us apart. Before now, we were like: ‘What about his job, what about my job, what about where we live?,’” said Aslanian.

When the war started, Anton returned from Spain to become an officer in the Ukrainian army. The two got back together and married, just a few months later.

“We came back together because of the war,” Aslanian said. “The only thing that matters in this war is the people around you and your loved ones.”

More often, however, war widens the distance between partners. Stopping at a coffee shop in Slovyansk on his way to the front lines, Yaroslav Sachko, 43, said he had not seen his wife and children since they moved to Germany at the beginning of 2022. Now he is worried about how she will cope when she moves. they connect, both in terms of “the physical aspects and the non-physical aspects.”

“It’s like I’ve never met her. It’s like I’ve never seen her. It’s almost like meeting a stranger,” Sachko said. “We have to learn each other again.”

At one sex shop in the eastern city of Dnipro, the Russian invasion and the influx of Ukrainians did little to dampen sales, according to longtime manager Larysa Goncharova.

While there are fewer sets of clothing sales – because many women are leaving Ukraine – the store has seen an increase in interest in remote devices for couples in long-distance relationships, Goncharova said. . Amid the frequent power outages in the city, the store has also seen an increase in sales of products such as toys with LED lights and glow-in-the-dark condoms.

Goncharova offers service members a 20 percent discount on products. But sometimes the soldiers’ spouses are her most loyal customers, expecting a rare visit from the front.

At a different gender shop a few blocks away, a man named Artem was shopping with his girlfriend. The couple met at a party, months after the beginning of Putin’s attack. After losing his job as a result of the war, Artem said, his new relationship is the main reason he lives in Ukraine.

“You can’t just sit and wait for the lights to turn off and the rockets to fly,” he said. “We have to move on, we have to live and we have to love each other. So here we are.”

Stein reported from Kyiv and Slovyansk. Schmidt reported from Dnipro. Serhii Korolchuk and Ievgeniia Sivorka contributed to this report from Dnipro.

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