Alight in the Dark: The Story Of Love Beyond All Barriers
As many Americans are aware, a terrible war continues to trudge on in Ukraine, after Russia invaded the country on February 24th, 2022. Ukrainians have proven to be iron-tough and extremely resilient, and are continuing to fight to liberate their country from Russian oppression. Many brave Ukrainians have been displaced because of the war, and are seeking refuge.
In the United States, the organization Alight, which works to help people in all types of international crises, has worked to meet the needs of all refugees, and set them up for success in their new homes. Karla Hult, a reporter for KARE 11, is currently also helping support Alight with media outreach related to the sponsorship of Ukrainian refugees by Minnesotans. Hult says “Since those earliest days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Minnesota-based Alight has been on the ground in the region responding to the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II: providing medicine, hundreds of tons of food, blankets and warm clothes, and 73,416 safe, secure nights of temporary shelter.”
She goes on to add that “Alight searches for and then supports amazing sponsor groups right here in Minnesota—people willing to step up to welcome Ukrainian families to the U.S…. The work of a sponsor is both beautiful and important: from greeting newcomers at the airport, to helping them find housing and jobs, to helping them register children for school, to ensuring the families can navigate public transportation and grocery stores.”
On November 19th, 2022, after a “long period of online communication” according to Hult, Borysko Filas and Andriy Denis (whose names have been changed for their safety and comfort), arrived in the United States, welcomed by their Minnesotan sponsor, who wishes to remain completely anonymous. Filas and Denis have a beautiful love story, and although it is tested by the oppression they face—both from the war and for being a gay couple—there are so many loving things they had to say about each other.
Filas and Denis’ relationship began through a dating app. Denis says, “My relationship with Borysko started quite unexpectedly, once I read a message in a gay dating app, replied (even though I rarely answered anyone) and we started talking.” Filas adds, “We talked about everything; I couldn’t believe that I was talking to a person who knew my true desires and feelings. It was a very pleasant and unusual feeling. After one week of communication, we agreed to meet in a café. When I was going to this meeting, I had a feeling that it was a dream and it was not possible, but it was reality.”
Before this, Filas says he had been living his life “outwardly heterosexual 100%.” From there, their relationship blossomed into an extremely deep connection: “quite often it even happened that Borysko drove me to work and then picked me up, because we wanted to spend more time together, then after six months we started living together” (Denis). Both men had incredible things to say about their partner. Filas says about Denis, “The thing I love most about him is his kindness to everyone… Whenever a mosquito or a fly flies into our apartment, he tries to catch it and let it out… He always supports me, even when he knows I’m wrong,” and he adds with a smile, “and he is also very handsome.” Denis comments on his partner’s “perseverance and organization” and says, “In general, we are just comfortable being together and it is impossible to describe in words why.”
Although anyone could tell from their responses that Denis and Filas are a beautiful match, they are not out to many of their friends or family. Filas explains, “I have no desire to tell my family or friends about it yet, as I am 100% sure that they are not ready to accept it. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, non-traditional orientation is considered something abnormal, and many people will judge you and not communicate with you at all.” Denis adds on to this, “in Ukraine, I was a closed gay man and told few people about my personal life. Of course, many of my close people know, mostly my relatives of my generation (my sisters and brothers) and my close friends. I didn’t tell my older relatives because I’m afraid they won’t be able to accept it.”
The attitude towards LGBTQ people in the Ukraine is very negative. Even though homosexuality itself is not explicitly illegal, same-sex marriage is illegal, conversion therapy is not banned, and same-sex couples cannot legally adopt a child. However, Denis notes that, “In Ukraine, there are quite a few queer people, especially communities. There were even pride parades in Kyiv a few years before the war, but tolerance and attitudes of society should be better, and I hope that it will be in time.”
Filas and Denis realized they needed to flee Ukraine because of the war, even though the decision was extremely difficult, especially for Denis, who says, “Borysko persuaded me to leave Ukraine. At first it was very difficult for me to decide; I didn’t want to leave my beloved Kyiv, I didn’t want to give up my favorite business, which I spent a lot of effort on developing.”
Things continued to get worse, however, and Denis explained, “In the fall, the situation in Kyiv began to deteriorate due to frequent Russian missile attacks, because they have a single goal—the destruction of Ukrainians” and after coming to the devastating realization that, lamented Denis, “maybe tomorrow a missile will hit your house and you will die”, the couple began looking for sponsorship to come to the United States.
Because of the tremendous number of displaced families looking for refuge, many services for refugees were completely full, and registration was closed. This did not stop Filas, however, who used every outlet he could think of, and never got discouraged, even after sending “more than 200 messages” seeking help. Just when everything might have started to seem hopeless, Filas says, “A few weeks later, without expecting it, I received an email from the administrator of the welcome.us website, who told me that he had been approached by the LGBTQ community in San Francisco with a request to help us find a sponsor. And then this administrator put us in touch with our sponsor.”
After arriving in the United States in November, Filas and Denis began settling into their new lives in Minnesota. They both noted that things in the United States were very different from the lives they were used to in Ukraine—positive and negative things—and things that were, as Denis explains it, “just different and I can’t even understand what the difference is.” Both men recognized the beauty of Minnesota and the open-hearted kindness of Minnesotans.
Denis says, “Sometimes Minneapolis reminds me of Kyiv. I really like the people of Minnesota, the first people I met in Minnesota were our sponsors and they turned out to be very kind, sincere, open and good people” and he adds, “I really want to see Minnesota in the summer, it seems to me that the nature is very beautiful here, you know, when you look at this beauty and you get goosebumps.” Filas agrees, stating one of the nicest things about coming here: “Minnesotans, the kindness and sincerity of people is amazing. It happens that people you don’t know help you as if you were their child or their relative. They don’t need any reward, they just help you, and it’s really impressive.”
Filas and Denis’ incredible story of love and bravery should serve as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and the work of Alight should show us that there is so much goodness left in a world, even when it can sometimes feel overwhelmingly bad. Denis says, “Alight is an incredible organization; their work and help is invaluable. Sometimes I didn’t believe it was possible, that someone could rent us a place to live, and it wouldn’t cost us anything, that someone could help you do something for free… it’s amazing… and Alight does it… it is very important for Ukrainians who go to the United States, and I am very grateful for the help with housing.”
Denis leaves the interview with wisdom we can all appreciate: “Perhaps my advice will apply to all couples, not just queer ones. Love each other, enjoy each other, trust each other.”
If you would like to help out families like Filas and Denis, Hult wants you to know: “Alight welcomes everyone interested in partnering with us at this important moment: whether that’s making a donation or welcoming a Ukrainian family.” It is not hopeless; you can help.
For more information on how you can help, log on to WeAreAlight.org.