Carry on living and fighting

Dany Stolbunov, 20, and his friend, Anya, 19, relax on a hammock in Shevchenko Park

I don’t feel scared talking about my status openly in Ukraine. If you are alone, of course, it is scary, but if you have people around you who support you and understand you, it’s not scary at all. Each person needs acceptance and I am lucky that many people accept me.

I was lucky at the early stages of forming my openness about the disease. If I was bullied at school for it, for example, maybe I would have a completely different attitude about my openness now. I was always lucky with the people around me. I am lucky that I live in Kyiv and my group of friends knows and accepts me, but if we are talking about other regions and smaller towns in Ukraine, I am not sure I would be able to speak about my status there in the same open way and just get away with it as I do in Kyiv.

When I was eight years old, I was taking some pills for about a year and my mom would not tell me the reason. After a big fight with my mom I started asking her what the pills were and she told me that I have HIV. I felt relaxed after she told me. I finally had an answer and knew what was wrong with me. It’s much better than not knowing. My group mates from the medical college didn’t accept me. They didn’t do anything to me directly, but they would always consider me as a loner. They wouldn’t allow my female group mates to communicate with me.

It’s important to openly speak about HIV because we need to influence and change the public opinion of it as a closed and forbidden issue to talk about. Through information, we can fight the fear of HIV. The lack of correct information about the disease brings the fear about it.

I would like to go back in time when the stereotypes about the HIV were just appearing. I would turn the perception into an only medical direction, not stigmatic, so that people could treat the virus similarly to other diseases, like diabetics or so on. It’s not scary at all, you just take the medications as with any chronic illness.

The only difference between the life of a person with HIV to the person without HIV is that you have to take pills regularly. Among the pros, is that I do medical check-ups quite regularly, so I know the state of my body. Not many people who don’t have HIV are so aware of their health.

Each problem in your life has to be treated just as a difficulty that you have to sort out. I understand that HIV is not the easiest “difficulty” to sort out, but when you are diagnosed, don’t close yourself to the world, don’t give up your dreams. Just carry on living and fighting. HIV is not a death sentence.


Dany is part of Teenergizer – a movement that unites teenagers and young people across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with the aim to create a world where every youth can realize his or her potential in a world free from discrimination in all areas, including HIV. Dany is the ex co-chair of PACT, a coalition of more than 80 youth-led and youth-serving organizations and networks working together to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights to help end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.