I have spent the week watching the inimitable Zarina Zabrisky, an American novelist and journalist who is currently documenting the Russian war in Ukraine.

Zabrisky was born in the USSR, in Leningrad (which was later renamed St Petersburg), and spent part of her childhood in Ukraine. Her home for decades has been in California, but she has been reporting on the war since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022 from all around Ukraine.

She reports from Kherson (pronounced Heer-sohn) in the south of Ukraine, not far from Russian-occupied Crimea, working on a documentary and a book about the region.

In November 2023, after occupying Kherson for nine months, the Russians retreated to the Kherson region across the Dnipro River. Located now only a few miles from the city, they launch attacks every day, using artillery, aerial bombs, drones, and missiles. Before the war, Kherson was home to 260,000 people. Now, Russians destroy residential areas, private houses, and daycare centers; they kill civilians, blast by blast.

Zabrisky has been speaking on Zoom calls with American podcasters all week, as reporting from war zones now seems to be the purview of tiny podcasts rather than major newsrooms. She recounts the deaths, fires, casualties, and funerals. We hear explosions while she talks.

When Heidi Cuda or Jim Stewartson of RadPod ask if she needs to head for a shelter, Zabrisky waves them away, letting the audience know that it wasn’t close enough to warrant her moving to the marginally better safety of an interior hallway.

Zabrisky and her colleague, a war photographer, and director Paul Conroy, are at work on a documentary about Kherson. The only two foreign journalists based in Kherson, they dodge bombs and keep at their job of reporting on the city that continues living amidst the attacks. Janitors working in bulletproof vests. Grocery clerks dodging artillery fire to get to work each day. Theaters presenting premieres in basements. When a war is conducted against a civilian population, journalists need to be embedded, as Zabrisky and Conroy are, with the civilians.

I listen to her, whispering to myself in horror, ‘Aren’t we all about to watch her die?’ Bombs rattle the microphone as she speaks.

On The Five Eight podcast this week, she confirms as much. Speaking with Greg Olear and Stephanie Koff about the Ukraine aid bill that Republicans are blocking in Congress, Zabriski says, “…Make sure it passes. If it doesn’t… we all will be killed here. And I’m not leaving…”

Kherson is a long way away from me, I suppose, but as I sit in St Petersburg, Florida, I see too many intersections between our worlds.

The fact that she is an American who is there by choice is the first one. As a lesbian couple, my wife and I are often asked why we don’t leave Florida. The entrenched GOP supermajority here uses every tool at their disposal to dehumanize and erase LGBTQ people within our state.

But, like Zabrisky, we are part of a community that we cannot abandon. Our world is a vibrantly LGBTQ-friendly city with our neighbors and friends, cafes, beaches, and schools around us.

It’s about these people and this place, but also more. We stay here to fight for Florida because the violence and corruption that’s being normalized in Florida are just one presidential cycle away from afflicting the entire United States if they are allowed to succeed.

As Zabrisky reports, “One woman we interviewed said, ‘Ukraine is not a country, it’s a border.’ …if this horde goes over the border, this will be the end of western civilization as we know it. We need to stop it. And the way we are stopping it right now is by helping Ukrainians to fight.”

That’s very much the argument my wife uses to rally people nationally to support the work of defending LGBTQ equality in Florida.

What happens in Florida never just stays in Florida. The people ready to ban books will show up at a Connecticut school board meeting as quickly as COVID showed up in your town after spring break.

Please believe this: MAGA does not just want Florida and Putin does not just want Ukraine.

Another way I find myself relating to the story from Kherson is as a parent with a child in American schools. In my bones, I know the helplessness of seeing people I care about being senselessly killed while Republicans block every attempt to stop the slaughter. As an American parent, I will never forgive nor forget the Republicans’ endless betrayal of our children with their ‘thoughts and prayers.’

Kherson residents are being killed by Russian shells because the GOP refuses to continue our aid to the Ukrainian forces ready to defend the city. The strangling ties of Russian interference in both these realities are inescapable.

More waves of recognition: There’s deja vu for me, watching yet another woman speak on my screen, describing how she may well be killed in the near future because of Republican fanaticism. In Zarina Zabrisky, I see Kate Cox, whose Republican elected officials in Texas vigorously fought to deny her the health care that would save her life. Women in Texas, Florida, and more than 20 other US states have now lost the part that matters most in maternal health care – a doctors’ ability to save a woman’s life when a pregnancy could kill her.

Zarina Zabrisky, Kate Cox, and millions more women are being defined by the GOP’s religious zealots first as sacred vessels and then, suddenly, as human sacrifice.

Throughout her interviews, Zabrisky tries to nform Americans about the fact that Russia is waging information warfare against us right now. To some degree Americans have become familiar with the idea of nefarious disinformation campaigns since 2016, but few people grasp, yet, the seriousness of our situation. The truth is that information warfare is used to prepare the ground for ‘real’ warfare, the kind of war Zabrisky is experiencing now in Ukraine.

Zabrisky talks about the mandatory course on propaganda she had to take as a literature student in the USSR before immigrating to the United States. This material seems ridiculous and arcane to most Americans. We don’t think of ourselves as being in a perpetual war to the death with Russia. But it turns out Russia has never stopped thinking about America this way.

Zabrisky isn’t the only credible source about Russia’s dogged pursuit of a cold war. It’s corroborated by multiple defectors from the former Soviet Union and Russia. The KGB and FSB’s morbid obsessions with the United States seemed unimportant after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it turns out our American politicians were easy enough to buy and/or blackmail, and what they were willing to sell out was not just the democracies of Eastern Europe, but American democracy itself.

We need to grasp that the information warfare we’re in is an actual war, and is being used to weaken us for physical war. That’s a grim message, but Zabrisky and many Ukrainians are trying to warn us so that we can avert some unimaginable catastrophes, both in Ukraine and here in the US.

Which brings me to Florida. It’s not just the new military force DeSantis has created that is personally directed by the Governor, or the humiliating show made out of arresting would-be voters. It’s not just the Stand Your Ground law that allows people to kill a person with a firearm and preempt any charges with a claim of self-defense, or the bans on history and sociology, or the gutting of public schools.

It’s all that violence coupled with Republicans’ sustained demonization of gay and transgender people that leaves our entire LGBTQ community fearing the possibility of violence every single day. I don’t have bombs going off in my neighborhood, but each of us is constantly getting news of people we love being forced to run, getting assaulted or even being killed.

On February 2nd, John Walter Lay, a gay man, was shot and killed at a Tampa area dog park where he’d walked his dog for years, by a man who had yelled homophobic slurs and threats at him repeatedly for months. The person he identified as his harasser readily acknowledges to the police that he shot and killed John Walter Lay. He claims he was defending himself. No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed as a result of this killing. This level of violence against LGBT people has been so normalized that the sheriff’s office’s statement is that “there is no danger to the public.”

For the LGBTQ public there is indeed danger.

My point is that real violence is already accompanying the violent rhetoric for millions of Floridians. Hate crimes are tools of terrorism aimed at entire communities and their impact is that much greater when law enforcement are complicit. The refusal of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office to even contemplate an arrest is an open invitation for more attacks on LGBTQ people.

The state’s many moves to eliminate transgender people from public life, prohibit them from accessing health care, ban them from bathrooms and criminalize their legal status puts targets on the backs not just of adults who are living their authentic lives, but is creating terror in the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming kids in Florida.

Ukrainians, who have seen Russian forces take thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, can relate to the fury one feels knowing their children are being targeted. Any Floridian who knows gender non-binary children, a group comprising approximately 5% of young people, is seeing the effects of the dramatically increased rates of suicide on them.

These past 24 months I have learned over and over of gender non-binary kids within our community being  hospitalized for threatening to kill themselves. So much worse are the funerals I have had to attend for those who succeed.

The escalation of violence is not limited to people who are LGBTQ. Immigrants, African Americans, and the growing ranks of houseless people all face an increasingly fraught existence here. DeSantis talks about Democrats themselves as being “a dead, rotten carcass on the side of the road,” so he is happy to inject dehumanizing rhetoric into the lives of millions of Americans in the state he leads.

Zarina Zabrisky’s testimony is about the reality of ongoing threats from a violent neighbor who believes Ukraine and its people have to be destroyed because the existence of an independent Ukraine disrupts Russian ideas about their own identity.

LGBTQ people in Florida are experiencing violence and legal erasure because our existence disrupts conservatives’ narratives about human nature.

So I do not feel worlds away from this woman on my screen. Zabrisky’s stories from the Ukrainian front help clarify for me the stakes of the struggle we find ourselves in here in Florida.

In so many ways we are embattled by the same enemy: an alliance between autocratic Russia and American Christian nationalists who have declared war on multi-racial democracy and human rights. The power of their pact of aggression can only be countered by a stronger alliance joining the forces of Ukrainian and American believers in open, democratic societies with the rule of law.