Vlad is a volunteer, activist, a queer person who since the beginning of the full-scale invasion has been actively communicating with foreign media to talk about the situation in Ukraine in general, and how it affects the LGBTQIA+ community in particular.
My name is Vladyslav Shast, I'm 27 years old, I've been living in the city of Kyiv for 11 years, originally coming from a small town in Kirovohrad region. I run the «Obiymy» charitable foundation, practice and teach meditation and also am an artist when I have time for it. For many years I worked as an advertising stylist, worked in nightclubs, and when I had free time - volunteered, because this is what was always important to me. I never really talked much about it, but when the full-scale invasion began, I became more vocal because those are the rules of the game now. The war changed everything, because my main field of activity - commercial shooting, advertising, nightclubs - all of this simply shut down, and in general I wanted to focus more on artistic activities. With volunteering, I felt in my place, because helping people, doing something for them is my vocation. I just can’t be happy if people around me are not well.
About volunteering and the charity foundation
Since 2018, I have annually organized a New Year's party for children at the Kyiv Cancer Institute, in the department of pediatric oncology. I have many contacts from all my jobs, so I decided to do something nice using the resources I have. I was working as a make-up artist at the time, so together with my fellow make-up artists, we painted children's faces, gave out gifts, and balloons. We also held master classes for children and parents, painted plates and various masks with them to distract and support them. This experience changed my life, and now I see that these were the first steps to what I am doing now. On the third day of the invasion, my mother and I somehow ended up in the Lukyanivka district territorial defense group and did not return home for almost a month because we were volunteering at the headquarters. Sometime in April, we came up with the idea to help not only the military, but also civilians, so we started sending vehicles with humanitarian aid to the de-occupied places in the Kyiv region, and by May we launched a charity fund. Currently, we still provide a lot of help on a point-by-point basis, but our goal is large-scale social projects that will be aimed at supporting disadvantaged social groups.
About activism in the LGBTQIA+ community
I don't really want to get into that field because I've actually been in it for years. It started when I worked in nightclubs as a drag queen, then I began to go beyond the borders of gay clubs and attend large social events, as well as master underground culture and parties - there is a large cluster of nightlife in Kyiv. Then I realized that in addition to entertainment, I conduct educational activities, and I will conduct this educational activity as long as I live in Ukraine. Who I am, what my personality is – even outside of nightclubs, I look a little different from most of society – and this can all be called enlightenment for those not familiar with the LGBTQIA+ culture. In terms of activism, I am more attracted to the topic of women's rights now, because I know from my own experience what stigmatization is like, including stigmatization from my own community. Unfortunately, my community stigmatized me very much. People have told me to my face that I'm not like that, that I don't fit the definition of gay, that I'm shaming them by creating a false image of gay people. Now these people admire me, they just weren't ready for me back then. And I see what is happening here in Ukraine, in the field of women's rights. The universe is showing me that this is what I should do.
For as long as I can remember, I have understood since childhood that there is something different in me. I tried to play "by the rules". I even fell in love with a girl at a young age, but it was all for show, because it had to be. I got an Internet access in the 6th grade, and around the 10th grade I started going to Kyiv, where I found my people, discovered gay clubs. I always knew that I needed to go to Kyiv, I saw that there are people who feel me, I was not lonely anymore. But even in the gay club, I was still a freak because I never did what everyone else did. And until Kyrylivska appeared [a cult techno club in Kyiv - ed.], with its openness about non-binary culture, I felt constrained. Identifying as gay is cool, but it just didn't feel entirely right to me. I never felt transgender because when I asked myself this question, I realized that I love my male body, I'm comfortable in it, but I don't like being in the gender role that I have. And only after coming to understand myself as a queer person I felt ease and peace. The path to myself was very difficult, with injuries, suffering, alcohol and drug addictions, I brought myself to panic attacks, terrible states, until I began to learn to really live and enjoy life. To share what God gave me with those around me, because the Lord gave me a lot of love, strength and will. Spiritual practices and meditation saved me. All my relatives turned away from me, except for my mother. It wasn't easy for her in the beginning, but in the end she was the first person to buy me makeup and provide fabrics for my first outfits for performances in nightclubs, and she always supported me very much. We have now a very gentle, open relationship that’s full of mutual gratitude.
When I got the internet, I was able to read who I was, because before that all I knew was that I was a fag and that it was something bad. I was bullied, although there was no coming out, nothing. But children can feel such things. I was different from a very young age, and while all the boys in my small town played football, I danced on stage, sang at all parties, went to a modeling school, dressed differently, behaved differently, spoke differently - and the bullying was terrible. Thank God that at some point in my life, spiritual practices happened to me as a form of therapy. Because by this time I was a walking trauma. And even knowing that you are gay, that it's okay to be gay, when everyone around you humiliates you, you start to wonder if you should live at all. This question was with me throughout my teenage years, but I very quickly found my people in Kyiv and online. Bullying still exists, but I have learned to live without it affecting me. I am above all this. Still - I do live in the world that pokes its finger at me all the time. People stare at you, take pictures of you on the street. Once there was a situation where I was walking back home exhausted after a hard day of volunteering and was dressed up nicely – I had a fur coat, a fur hat - such an après-ski vibe. And I heard someone say: “Look at him walking like that, such people should get shot”. And in my head I kept thinking about it for the whole day – the day of hard work for the benefit of other people – and here is this superficial comment of a person who judges me only by my appearance. This is something you have to live with. But in response to all these looks and bullying I can only say that we always have to remain human. I realized that if you respond with violence to violence, aggression to aggression, anger to anger, there will only be pain. So it is worth trying to bring love to the world even to such people. They behave this way because they have no respect for the world and for themselves. The only thing I can do is to be this example of love and respect for myself.
About publicity and communications
I have many friends and acquaintances abroad because of my previous nightclub activities, so with the beginning of the invasion it happened that I gave many interviews to various publications and TV channels. For me, this is a platform where I can share my vision of the world, plant good seeds of awareness for people. It is important for me to convey the message - both in Ukrainian society and abroad - that it is time to wake up, you cannot continue to live without awareness and respect. There is a huge lack of respect in our country and in the world, it's not just the LGBTQIA+ community or women, everyone could become a target. I am bringing to the world the idea that Ukraine should be supported without discussion and hesitation, because Ukraine is the Western world's human shield against the Russian Empire. And the cost of living is rising not because of Ukraine, but because of Russia, which attacked us. And my message to Ukrainians is that it is absolutely unacceptable to tolerate anything Russian, in culture and in everything else. People die, survive in inhumane conditions, go through real hell, and you still carry the Russian narrative into our space? I have zero tolerance for this.
About participation in the Anoeses x KyivPride project
I really love Anoeses as a brand, they are dear to me in terms of aesthetics and value, so it is a great joy and pleasure to take part in this project. I'm glad that modern brands are more and more supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community, it's normal and it should be this way. Especially when Ukrainian brands do it - they have the energy and courage to do it, they are not afraid that their audience may not accept it. I love the brave. I would like to see more projects like this, among brands, in media and from different non-profits. Projects where we are not muted by choosing, for example, the calmest shot from a photo set. Such projects, where we, representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community, can be ourselves and show ourselves as brightly as we do in real life.
Freedom is the opportunity to be honest with yourself and the world. Absolutely honest. About your personality, your desires, your mood, about your intentions, this is really freedom. Freedom for me is honesty.
Courage is also about honesty, about the power to be honest.
Beauty is the inner glow of a person, it is more than an external component. This is how so many drops of goodness, peace, love, joy of acceptance of oneself and the world are harmoniously connected in a person. There are people who are just like a huge walking glow, for me this glow is beauty.
Love is the basis of all living things, it is all that we once were, are, and will be. This is everything from which this universe was created, this is every cell, molecule, atom, you, me, tree, table, sky, earth, planets, everything that was and that never is. This is love for me, absolutely everything.