Transgender and Transsexuality in Ukraine

Ukraine is located between Central Europe and Asia. Before integration with Russia in 1654, communication between Ukraine and Europe encountered few obstacles. Additionally, there was a strong influence of the East on Ukrainian culture. Christianity came to Ukraine in 988. Before the arrival of Christianity, Ukrainian religions were based upon polytheism or many gods. Upon reading many of the writings by the old authors, it can be discerned that there were many holidays in which it was commonplace to wear the dress of the opposite gender. Moreover, there were performing artists called schomorochs and, based upon the ancient writings, it is possible to find some elements of transvestism appearing in their performances.

Traditionally, the head of the Ukrainian family has always been male. It was the male's duty to hold the power in the family and to provide sufficient means for the family. The women's duties were to take care of the home and the children. The woman's role changed, to some extent, with the appearance of one of the first leaders of the Ukrainian state (then called Kyiv Rush), Queen Olga, who ruled from 945 to 969. With her appearance, the precedent for a woman to have a leading role was established. On the death of her husband, King Oleg, she finally became Queen of Ukraine. Olga was famous as the first woman to become a Christian Queen of Kyiv Rush.

The emergence of Queen Olga encouraged women to become highly educated, engendering a deep respect within the Ukrainian social structure. For example, in the Middle Ages, one Ukrainian woman prisoner became a wife of the Turkish Sultan and played a significant role in governing this Islamic country. Despite the acknowledged abilities of Ukrainian women during these times, it was not until the end of the 19th century that we begin to read about the leading roles of women in state life in Ukraine. Thus, like many of the Central European countries at that time, while women's knowledge and roles were highly respected, the traditional gender roles predominated in Ukrainian society.

During the Soviet period (1917-1991), homosexuality, transvestism, and transsexuality were considered to be psychiatric disorders. Moreover, people who had one of these "diagnoses" were forced to obtain treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Additionally, these disorders were persecuted under an assortment of Soviet laws.

In 1994, a special commission addressing questions of transsexuality was organized within the Ukrainian Ministry of Public Health. This commission decided to legalize transsexuality. As a result of this new legalization, a number of Ukrainians decided to undergo sex reassignment. According to the rules of the commission, patients who wish to change their gender must be observed by a sexologist in an outpatient setting for a period of a year. Additionally, a psychiatrist in a hospital must see them for a period of at least a month. After these specialists diagnose the individual as being transsexual, he or she is allowed to have gender reassignment surgery upon submitting an application for the surgery to the commission. Once the commission has given a positive decision, it is also possible for the gender of the individual to be changed on his or her passport.

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