Kafa’s Path to Victory: Perspectives from a Displaced, Queer, Anarchist Soldier

Kafa smoking in their Ukrainian military fatigues.

Name: Clementine Clint

Callsign: “Kafa”

Age: 22

Pronouns: They/She

Military Formation: 93rd Motorized Infantry Brigade

“How is it growing up as a person with no fucking roots? How is it immigrating to Germany at the age of 18? How is it coming back? It’s not something I’m not used to. There is no task that I cannot complete. I just have to read the instructions.”

Clementine Clint, callsign Kafa, is 22 years old.

They grew up on the Crimean peninsula in Simferopol, only to flee with many other locals when the Russians invaded. After fleeing the invasion, they moved to Germany, living out their teenage years in the country before eventually returning to Ukraine after Russia marched on Kyiv last year. They then volunteered for the army, becoming a drone operator for the 93rd Motorized Infantry Brigade.

They see this war as an opportunity to reclaim the home they were forced to flee as a child, but hope to return as a liberator after 9 long years. Whether that dream will become a reality remains to be seen, but they are not alone in pursuit of this goal: many in the Ukrainian armed forces are actively fighting to reclaim their own homes, whether in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, or the more recently occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhia. 

When the Russians Came to Town

DYLAN BURNS: So your code name is Kafa? What does that stand for?

KAFA: It stands for…. It’s a Turkic word. It’s the name of Feodosiya, a town in Crimea that I spent a lot of time in as a kid, and that I cherish in my memory. Every day I go to sleep.

You have a lot of love for Crimea.

Yes, because well, a little bit of back story. I’m kind of a settler child. My mom is Ukrainian from a line of teachers. She’s a teacher, her mother’s a teacher. Classical Soviet family. I got to know that our family was repressed when I started digging in. She’s from Kyiv Oblast. My dad is a so-called Volga Deutscher. The children of repressed Germans. The Soviets or the Russians were never particularly liked in the environment I was growing up in because they ruined the lives of those people and they ended up living in Crimea one way or another.

A childhood photo from Crimea.

“I’m kind of a settler child. My mom’s Ukrainian, from a line of teachers…”

What was it like growing up in Crimea? I’ve heard it’s a very beautiful place.

I mean, it [Crimea] is not only beautiful but also very multicultural. I myself speak four and a half languages, more or less. There it is a common thing. When I was going through primary school, no one was asking any questions. ‘Why are you this or that?’ Everyone was just like, ‘Oh, okay. Whatever.’ As people in the United States like to say, a melting pot. It is and always has been a melting pot. I really liked it there. It’s really, really beautiful. The nature and the sea is stunning. I don’t have words right now to express how much I miss it and how much I love it.

When the Russians invaded Crimea, you were 13?

Yes, Correct.

Do you remember what it was like? Were you in Crimea when it happened?

Abso-fucking-lutely I do. I mean, it’s a complete Vietnam flashback. I have to say that. I look into it sometimes when I sleep. It was the so-called ‘Russian Spring.’ My parents were really confused, and they were just frozen. I guess they didn’t know what to do.

Did it come as a shock when it happened?

Yeah. I have a sister. Our plan was to go to university, studying at the university in Kyiv. We managed to, spoiler alert. But because of the occupation, it got harder. It was a fucking fuss. From 2014 to 2015, we studied and lived under occupation, and we both studied in so-called ‘Russian school.’ But it’s not a Russian school, it’s just a Ukrainian school with a program made by Russians. So there is no Ukrainian language, it’s just additional. The Russian language is ‘special.’

I speak perfect fucking Russian, [but] I never do it. It’s my personally radical position because I did it enough. Russians and the teachers that they bought or made to serve them, just to do what they say. They would play the Russian [national] anthem. It’s needless to say that neither me nor my sister nor another group of friends [stood and sang].

So you didn’t sing any of the Russian songs or-

Absolutely fucking not. No. I also started speaking Ukrainian. My Ukrainian was really shitty at the time, and I was doing it as an act of rebellion.

That act of-

Rebellion? Yeah. I was a teenager, first of all. In the middle of a crisis, where adults are not managing it well. And I started speaking Ukrainian publicly in school, and we had to change schools.

Standing atop a hill.

“I also started speaking Ukrainian. My Ukrainian was really shitty at the time, and I was doing it as an act of rebellion.”

What was it like living under occupation in Crimea?

Uh, hiding.

Hiding. What do you mean by that?

Uh, I mean, people could not say out loud what they think, because Russians came and they came with, um, power, you know, and Kalashnikovs, and they started repression. A bunch of people got imprisoned. People that were saying what they thought were either imprisoned or killed.

What were the kind of statements that would get somebody imprisoned or killed?

‘Crimea is Ukraine.’ And also ‘indigenous people of Crimea,’ Crimean Tatars, because, Russians knew they’re not going to obey because it’s their fucking land, in my personal opinion. And as per any historical book. So, they came and they started repressing them. They started putting their leaders in prison. They just claim them to be terrorists. You know, the classical fucking scheme.

How did your parents react to the 2014 invasion?

They were not happy about it at all. I mean, they were really scared and confused. They have two kids and a house to protect.

How important is Ukraine taking back Crimea? Do you think it’s possible?

It is possible. And every drop of blood that’s in my veins is for that fucking idea. I mean, I don’t care about the constitution even if they don’t change it. This is what I’m fighting for. My fucking place. They started killing animals.

Do you care a lot about the ecological status of Crimea?

Abso-fucking-lutely. Yes. They are just destroying it. They are turning our nature reserves into military bases. And they came and they killed all the fucking lizards. What can I do now? Just kill them all. That’s it. That’s the logical outcome that I get from this situation, honestly.

Why and when did you join the Ukrainian military?

The timeline is the following. The invasion starts. I’m in Germany. I pack my fucking shit. I started running and training and getting a driver’s license while figuring out my business in Germany. Meaning, completing the German course that I owed to the German state. I do all these things. I got a ticket to Kyiv. When I got to Kyiv, I came as a civilian. I completed a drone pilot course, and then I got into the army. That’s it.

Kafa in Germany, prior to their return to Ukraine.

The timeline is the following: The invasion starts. I’m in Germany. I pack my fucking shit…”

KAFA: At the German course, a guy that was sitting next to me, we were learning together. He was from Palmyra [in Syria] and he said ‘yeah, Russians came. And then a couple of weeks later there was a Russian language course taught to every kid at school.’

[…] Mariupol is getting demolished, and a theater full of civilians gets bombed. And in these conditions, I have to sit tight there in the German course and listen to whatever the German teacher is saying. And this is, I mean, this is another drop, you know? Then he tells me, ‘Yeah, my house was also burned to the fucking ground by Russians. And they also taught my kids the language.’ And I’m like, ‘oh yeah, I’m sorry, mate.’ I guess I’m going to finish the course and go to war so I can, you know, just pay them back.

Rain Made of Iron

Posing in Ukrainian military fatigues while carrying a trench shovel.

So your role is as a drone pilot?


Do you believe you’re good at your job?

I think so, yes. I can ride the bike with no handlebars. I can guide the missile by satellite.

What was it like training to be a drone pilot?

Interesting. It’s, uh, special. Being a person assigned female at birth, everywhere is a bit of a surprise. You know? Also in the Army, I myself always act like it is supposed to be this way. Sometimes people are a bit confused about what is going on. Most of the people that were on the course… It was a brilliant course, and it was very helpful. But they were older than me. I mean, it’s a classic situation. It was a bit condescending a lot of times. As in ‘Why are you here, child? Why would you go to war when you can sit somewhere else and pack humanitarian packages for the army?’ No. I packed enough in Berlin.

People would criticize you for joining the military?

They were questioning it. Why would I do it? I mean, what is written in my fucking passport? Crimea. I want that. I want that. And I’m going to get it. That’s it.

Why do you think people were criticizing you for doing the military, and what type of people were criticizing you? Other soldiers?

I mean, this is a very provocative question. It was in the drone school, and the drone school people would get confused. Why do I have so much motivation? Why would I do it even? Why would I be not afraid to go to war to fly a drone? Because I have nothing to fucking lose since 2014. How is it growing up a person with no fucking roots? How is it immigrating to Germany at the age of 18? How is it coming back? It’s not something I’m not used to. There is no task that I cannot complete. I just have to read the instructions.

So, many of them underestimated you?

Yeah. *laughs* Yeah, maybe. I don’t know.

Kafa poses with a DJI Mavic 3 drone, one of many used by personnel within the Ukrainian military and others in the field.

“There is no task that I cannot complete. I just have to read the instructions.”

What’s your role as a drone operator?

Reconnaissance. Radio reconnaissance, gathering data, and data analysis. Sometimes it’s all good. Ten out of ten. Sometimes you’re hiding like a fucking rabbit. Sometimes you have to escape through a field full of landmines. Sometimes you just fall on the ground because missiles that are forbidden by the Geneva Conventions are falling from the fucking sky. Cluster bombs. (Editorial note: cluster munitions are not specifically banned by the Geneva Conventions, but are broadly proscribed under international law).

Cluster munitions are falling from the sky as if [they are] rain. Rain made of iron. Well, the good thing about being a drone operator is actually helping to send that same kind of thing to the Russians. So I enjoy that a lot.

What was it like to be bombed with cluster munitions?

What does it sound like? It sounds like death. It smells of fire. Like rain made of shattered hot iron falling from the sky. It does cut through everything. What’s it called? Shrapnel?

Shrapnel? Yes.

Yeah, it’s a piece of shrapnel. I mean, one wrong piece of shrapnel and the person is dead forever. It just depends where it fucking hits. I mean, it’s pure luck. It’s pure luck. No munition saves one from it, and it’s horrifying. They’re using cluster bombs on civilians also… I heard cluster bombs a lot. There were also guided missiles. S-300s. The cluster munition, tanks, mines, different kinds of artillery. It’s all so, uh, different. Kind of horrifying, I would say. Good thing we also have artillery and it’s covering us. I myself have not been on the white phosphorus attack (Editorial note: disagreements still exist among weapons experts on the use of white phosphorus munitions by Russian forces in Ukraine, but the use of other incendiary munitions has been documented), but I know a bunch of people that have survived that.

How was it described to you, from those who survived the […] white phosphorus attacks?

I mean, like a white shower falling from the sky as a, uh, lantern.

A lantern?

[…] Like a light, but like a bunch of lights. A shower of light. 

Gay Cossacks and Politics

Kafa wearing a hat with the symbol of the Union of Ukrainian LGBT Military Personnel.

How do you identify in the LGBTQIA+ community, and how did you discover you’re part of that community?

I identify as a non-binary person. As a queer, which is a very broad umbrella term which I like. I don’t fit in the box. How did I discover this? I don’t know. I think I’ve always been like that. I came out to my parents when I was 13 or 14.

When you came out to your parents, what did you come out as?



I am attracted to people and the way they think.

So when you came out to your parents, was it quite a shock?

Yeah, I mean, it was quite a shock, but they got used to it.

What was it like growing up in the LGBTQIA+ community in Ukraine? Were you very active in the community?

It was great. In Crimea, everyone was weird. I mean, it’s a place of freedom…..I don’t know. Before the occupation, no one really cared much about who you are. You just had to be. And I don’t know. Don’t piss on the street, and pay respects to the locals. Just, you know, mind your own business in a way.

My experiences of occupation and my political identification are very related because when the occupation started, I realized I cannot fucking hide no more, first of all. Second of all, I am already different. What fucking ever.

Do you consider yourself a LGBTQIA+ activist?

Yeah, I’m doing activism. I mean, activism, whatever, political work. Political work as in, um, well, everything is political work. Being out and telling people, explaining to people what is what, when people are willing to hear it. I believe that everything has an impact. At the end of the day, sometimes it does happen that in the same place there are people of different political beliefs and we are fighting in the same fucking army.

And there are a bunch of Russians that are going to kill us all if something goes wrong. So the political side of the topic is gone at that moment, because it’s either us or them. I mean, obviously they don’t pick ‘Are you a lefty or a righty?’ They torture everyone the same.

Is there a big cultural scene for the queer community in Ukraine?

Absolutely, yes. The situation has changed drastically in the last five years, and it’s getting much better. It’s amazing. I’m really proud of them.

In Ukrainian military fatigues.

Before the occupation, no one really cared much about who you are. You just had to be.

How has [the queer scene] changed in the last five years?

It got easier because more people came out publicly.

So there is more visibility of the community in Ukraine?

Yes. And also this whole LGBT, what’s it called? LGBT Military Movement. They’re active on Instagram and Twitter. They gather stories of queer soldiers all around Ukraine and the veterans also and just share them.

So queer people in the military, their visibility as soldiers, are helping the LGBTQIA+ community have a better image?

Absolutely, Yes. You know how propaganda works. You’re not just a crazy neighbor or a weirdo or a psycho. You are serving and willing to die for the country that you know is not recognizing your rights even. I don’t care. I mean, I am fighting my fight. And this is just my special interest. That also is the political interest.

What is the relationship like between the church and the LGBTQIA+ community in Ukraine?

Oof, that’s a tough one. Um, I am a nonbeliever, because I believe in science. The church says I will burn in hell for my sodomy sins and I will gladly, if hell exists. And I also don’t consider loving someone a sin.

In military fatigues, foreground to a Ukrainian bus line.

“I don’t care. I mean, I am fighting my fight. And this is just my special interest. That also is the political interest.”

What is it like for the availability of products like HRT in Ukraine?

It all depends on how much money you have, because money can buy a visit to a private doctor who is a good endocrinologist who can figure it out for you. Money can just make it easier because then you don’t have to prove that you are not insane… The other day, I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague of mine about what it means to be a man or to be a woman, because there are also other people that are trans serving in the army; some of them are my friends.

Do you think there are a decent amount of trans people serving in the military?

What is ‘decent’?

Like a couple dozen, or do you think there is a larger amount?

I mean, we are legion, you know. I’m not trying to push my agenda. I am the agenda. I am a trans person serving in Ukrainian army. If they don’t like it…..well, what can I do? I was born like that.

Would you say that the LGBTQIA+ community […] are kind of pushed into the lower echelons of society?

Yeah, obviously. If we think in privileges, it’s an absence of privilege. Healthcare is privilege, Being afraid to get killed on the street because you’re walking like a faggot is a real thing.

I was beaten up a bunch of times when I was a teenager on the street for looking different. Well, look at me now. *laughs* Yeah, it is absolutely an insecurity and instability, but it is getting better because it’s more visible, and visibility is important. Diversity is important. Imagine how Russians are going to be afraid if there is a whole unit of, you know, so-called LGBT NATO instructors, just, you know.

They might touch them and make them gay?

Yes! *laughs*

Identity, Morality, and Victory

Kafa takes a brief respite from service.

“If they don’t like it…..well, what can I do?”

Do LGBTQIA+ soldiers and civilians face unique dangers associated with the possibility of Russian occupation?

Absolutely, yes…. I mean, common knowledge. Russians just, they are the real Nazis because they already use the same tactics by the book. They storm cities and they demolish them to the fucking ground. They torture the civilians, kill them, and then raise their children Russian.

And who are the first that they kill? They ask who is different. Kill. Dies first, gets killed first. Who is an activist? Who has ties with Ukraine? Who speaks Ukrainian? It’s something that they have done also in other places. Syria. Mali. 

Does the propaganda aimed at demonizing the LGBTQIA+ community [in Ukraine] affect you?

Yeah, I don’t know. It hurts sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s already hard enough being an internally displaced person. Every time you have to explain why there is no place for you to be when everyone asks for a vacation. I cannot go on vacation. I have no home, and I’m also queer. What a surprise to me.

Does the current legal and social status of queer people and queer relationships affect the morale of LGBTQIA+ soldiers?

It definitely affects my personal moral status. Imaginary situation. I die. How is my partner supposed to take my body in the morgue? How is that person supposed to cross the border? To lie, to pretend that they are a journalist, a volunteer? What the fuck?

As my dad said a couple of days ago, you don’t choose where you’re born or who your parents are. I can add to that. I don’t choose who I get to love. It’s just a feeling inside of me.

Is homophobia very present in the Ukrainian military? Does it depend on the battalion or branch?

Definitely depends from person to person. I mean, it’s a a melting pot of everyone. It’s a lot of different people with different motivations and with different world views. And it’s good. It’s good that everyone is different. Otherwise, it would have been, I mean, a kind of situation, Nazi Germany style. 

What do you mean by that?

I mean everyone is the same. Everyone has the same Bavarian accent, blue eyed blond, wearing a brown uniform. The Ukrainian army is nothing like that. It’s like a pixel image, and it’s a Ukrainian pixel. It is very, very, very different. And it’s our power, it’s in our diversity. Not only queer, but in general. The faster people realize it, the closer the victory is.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your identity with other soldiers?

I take pride in it, because it’s a part of who I am. I’m just not choosing to hide, because I see no sense in it. I had to hide when I lived under Russian occupation, so I [could] stay alive. And here I am at home. Why am I supposed to hide it? Home is a safe space. My home is Ukraine and I don’t want to hide any more.

Perched in fatigues atop a muddy vehicle.

“My home is Ukraine and I don’t want to hide any more.”

Have you faced any prejudice while in the Ukrainian military related to your identity?

Tricky. Not quite. Everyone has to look by the book, you know? I used to look a bit because of piercings, and I used to wear a septum [piercing]. It has a practical side of it as masking. It can be infected, and it can rip your ears out. So I stopped wearing it. I also cut my hair, because it’s obviously not practical to wear it long. Some people don’t do it. I honestly prefer it that way. Also because of just the practical side. I got confused a lot for a boy from the back, which is funny as I am not a boy.

The only thing that gives me away is my voice. I like it. I used to really dislike it, but now as some of my job is also speaking on the radio, it is fine.

How do you view Zelensky’s political relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community? Do you think he’s doing enough? Needs to do more?

No one is doing enough, but the change is coming. I do understand that it is a fuss now to change the constitution just to pass the law [legalizing gay marriage]. Pass the law on civil marriages. How long do I myself, and all the people before me and after me, have to fight for this shit?

What do you think of the civil partnership legislation that’s currently in the Rada?

I really hope it gets somewhere. I really hope it gets somewhere because, I would really like to be recognized and for my partner and for my future children to be recognized as someone. Because I am no one. I am a soldier. I am a person with a weird biography, and [an] AK, and a military ticket.

I want to talk about your anarchism for a second. Where did that come from, and [why] do you view yourself politically as an anarchist?

I view myself as an anarchist, as a queer feminist, as a trans feminist, and as a fighter. Fighting for myself, and for the people I love. And for the community, because community is everything. Where do people go when there is something missing? To their neighbors. To their neighbors, and to the people they trust. When the civilization ends — and the civilization is in a way collapsing at the frontlines, there’s no light there, there’s no electricity, and there’s no water — what do the people do? They gather and they plan something. That’s the way the universe intended. 

Kafa holds a copy of Sewell's "Black Beauty" (1877).

“…Fighting for myself, and for the people I love. And for the community, because community is everything.

Do you consider yourself an anarchist of Nestor Makhno’s (Ukrainian anarchist) tradition?

Definitely. Yeah, I’m personally an anarchist of, uh, more of stern tradition. Max Stirner. Makhno’s mistake was trusting the wrong people.

As an anarchist, how do you view Ukrainian membership in NATO and the EU?

Um, interesting question. I think, let it be. They decide what they decide. I cannot. I would enjoy riding a leopard.

So for the record, do you think that Ukraine should join NATO or the EU?

Absolutely, yes. I mean, people do not understand what that brings also, but let it be. This is something that the revolution of dignity was fighting (for). I really hope I survive until the day it happens.

How can Ukraine’s international coalition help further support it?

Going out in demonstrations, donating, organizing in the diasporas, cherishing the culture, the language, songs. It does make a difference. It does matter. Because every kind word, every half of a hryvnia sent to someone’s fundraising campaign makes a difference, and it saves lives truly.

Last question. What does victory mean to you?

Victory, I mean, it’s a picture. It’s a future. It’s me and the people that I call family and my children on the beach of the Black Sea. And it’s sunny and there is no war to fight, nor for me, nor for them.