Ukrainian Pride: LGBT resilience and commitment despite Russian invasion

By Miriam García Agujetas

UKRAINIANS have had it tough since the Russian invasion on February.

It can be easy to forget that amidst the conflict, activists and minorities are still fighting for their own rights to prepare for a post-conflict nation.

Redaction Report spoke with Edward Reese, a project assistant for the Ukrainian NGO, KyivPride.

Reese is currently in Denmark after being forced to flee his country, but continues to coordinate the actions of the NGO and act as a spokesperson for LGTBIQ+ Ukrainian voices.

He told Redaction Report that KyivPride aims to contribute to the full respect of human rights for LGBT+ people in Ukraine and to promote the recognition of these rights by improving the visibility of LGBT+ people and their participation in social processes. In addition, the NGO organizes the so-called KyivPride-week.

According to Reese, the NGO was officially registered in 2016 but has been doing extremely necessary work since 2012. That year, they tried to hold the “First Equality March” in Kyiv, but it had to be cancelled because of the aggression of violent groups who opposed it.”

Since then, thanks to their educational and social work, the atmosphere has changed. In 2019, the LGTBIQ+ Pride rally was attended by more than 8,000 people in the heart of the capital.

READ MORE: Putin’s Ukraine War undermines Russia’s ambition to oppose liberal world order

The incidents were few, thanks to the strong police presence, and only nine detainees tried to boycott it, according to figures from the organization.

Edwards said: “I would say that in Ukraine all people understand that LGBTIQ+ people are not monsters. We see growth since 2016. “

In addition, since the invasion, they have still been able to be effective.

Apart from fulfilling its previous objectives such as talks and courses to educate police, events in different parts of Ukraine to promote respect for the community have also been taking place. These include making educational videos and collaborating with businesses and the media to achieve greater visibility. KyivPride has focused on protecting the population from the effects of the war in their country.

Like any other LGTBIQ+ organization in Ukraine, Edwards says, “seeing the need for people to get help, we began to focus on providing it as well; at first, during the first days of the invasion, we created support groups with volunteer psychologists.

“These meetings used to happen on a daily basis. Now they occur twice a week, as the influx has fallen”.

He says that approximately 5000 people have attended meetings organized by these groups. This psychological support was complemented by a small exhibition in Kyiv called “I’m in Ukraine, I’m out of Ukraine. ” It told the stories of both the people who stay in Ukraine and the people who had to leave, but who continue to help in any way they can, according to Reese.

134 days later, their efforts are focused on helping the armed forces with medical supplies and a shelter they opened in the Ukrainian capital: “It is a shelter for LGTBIQ+ people, which in turn is also a community center. You can stay there for free. Many people arrive here from very different cities in the country intending to later reach safer regions or other countries in Europe. “

This year, says Reese, had it not been for the Russian invasion of their country, they would have celebrated last July 25 as the 10th anniversary of these marches to celebrate Pride.

“Even during the invasion we had a small week of pride, but it was unfeasible to do this event currently in Kyiv,” he says.

Therefore, the Polish LGTBIQ+ organizations invited them to demonstrate jointly in Warsaw for LGTBIQ+ rights and the end to the invasion – two things that are considered synonymous.

Thus, during the protests, it was demanded to arm Ukraine and banners like “Homophobia=Russia were seen. “

LGTBIQ+ Pride marches in Warsaw, Poland. June 25, 2022. Source: KyivPride

They believe that if Ukraine does not win and thus the Russian defeat, the entire LGBTIQ+ community is at great risk.

During this war, Putin has taken advantage of and used anti-LGBIQ+ rhetoric.

The march took place despite the discrimination suffered by the LGTBIQ+ community in Poland, where there are even zones established as ‘LGTBIQ free’.

However, it was numerous and well-accepted, according to Edwards.

“In our KyivPride column there were about 3000 thousand people; there were also Ukrainian refugees who came from other countries like me, from all over Poland and also people who just wanted to support us and go with us. ”

LGTBIQ+ Pride marches in Warsaw, Poland. June 25, 2022. Source: KyivPride

Ukrainian LGBTIQ+ have been forced to flee to conservative neighbours. Edwards , who identifies as intersex and uses the pronouns “he/they” first fled to Poland, where he claimed to be received correctly, although under some pressure he ended up going to Denmark.

However, he notes, they have identified problems in receiving LGBTIQ+ Ukrainians in various countries, including “those we identify as more liberal.”

However, he insists that the reception has been positive because “many people understand that we are refugees first and then, LTGBIQ+. It is also thanks to the help of international and local LGTBIQ+ organizations fighting so that people can feel safe.”

He does not believe that the conservative views of politicians can stop “the goodness of the people. “

But hate crimes are still being committed in Ukraine.

“It is very sad to happen, although it is obvious that these aggressors are somehow controlled by Russia; they publish Russian propaganda on social networks, they get money from Russia, and not even hide it,” he says.

Back in Ukraine, the war is serving to give the part of the armed forces composed of LGTBIQ+ people, volunteers, and activists the visibility they deserve, Edwards says.

“It is necessary to save the nation so that all LGTBIQ+ people who are fighting for the freedom of our country are protected.

“Currently, our main identity is Ukrainian and only then are we queer, and if we do not win there will be no Ukraine.

“Russia aims to destroy us; that is what they have been trying to do for several centuries.” He believes this is not the time to talk about particular rights when survival is at risk, but “we still care and work for them”.

It is necessary to save the nation so that all LGTBIQ+ people who are fighting for the freedom of our country are protected, he stressed.

In the last six years, according to KyivPride, the negative attitude of Ukrainian society towards the LGTBIQ0+ community has been reduced from 60.4% to 38.28%

Reese concludes by stressing the need for people to continue to help Ukraine.

They, he says, are being the shield against a hell that can spread quickly.

Miriam Garcia is a freelance journalist from Spain.

Featured Image: KyivPride

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