Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the “Journalism of Tolerance” project by the Kyiv Post and its affiliated non-profit organization, the Media Development Foundation. The project covers challenges faced by sexual, ethnic and other minorities in Ukraine, as well as people with physical disabilities and those living in poverty. This project is made possible by the support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development and Internews. Content is independent of the donors.
Despite several attempts by ultra-nationalist and right-wing activists to intervene, the Equality March in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ukraine, went off peacefully for the second year in a row.
Some marchers, however, reported attacks against them after the gay pride, which started at 10 a.m., was over.
Still, about 4,000 participants — guarded by 5,000 police officers — walked along several blocks in the center of Kyiv on June 18, many holding rainbow-colored flags and posters, chanting “Human rights are above all” and “Rebel, love, don’t let go of your rights.”
According to the press service of Ukraine’s National Police, no one was injured during the march. Six people were arrested for trying to attack the participants. All six have already been released.
Some people said they were attacked after they left the area of the march.
Volodymyr Konoshevych, 30, attended the event with his wife and three friends. When the Kyiv Pride was over, they entered Lva Tolstoho metro station and took one of the trains that were waiting for the marchers for them to travel safely and avoid violence. The train took them to Petrivka station, where they saw a group of men wearing sports clothes and nationalists’ symbolics. Konoshevych said the men followed them to the train back to the center.
“We went out of the train on Kontraktova Ploshcha, looked around and it seemed we were safe,” he told the Kyiv Post. However, in several minutes they noticed that the group of men was following them. “It was obvious they were after us. And then they started running. So did we.”
Konoshevych and his friends ran to the nearest drug store and persuaded a store assistant to lock the doors. They called the police and waited for them inside, while the unknown men shouted to them through the window, urging them “to pray,” he said. The men left the scene when the police came, and Konoshevych’s group left by taxi.
Some were less lucky. Mischa Badasyan from Germany, who attended the Equality March in Kyiv, said on Facebook that he “just got with my friend attacked and beaten up by five neo-Nazis.”
“Everyone in Kyiv please be careful,” he wrote. He later told the Kyiv Post that “they injured my finger, and punched me hard in the jaw. They sprayed my friend into her face with a pepper gun.”
Police officers have taken them to their hotel afterward, he said.
During the Equality March in Kyiv in June 2015, a group of right-wing activists broke through the police cordon and threw smoke grenades and firecrackers at the participants. Two police officers were seriously injured.
Police on marchers’ side
During the march, several hundreds of anti-gay activists tried to block the event. A group of people even burned the LGBT flag near the route of the Kyiv Pride.
However, police officers did not allow any incidents and even changed the route of the march to avoid violence.
The huge police presence — crowd-control officers from different forces on foot, horseback, bicycles, with dogs, vans and squad cars — showed that Gay Pride parades are still not routine in Ukraine.
“That’s fair to say,” said Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Waschuk. “It’s also fair to say it’s become more festive, bigger, and that the issue was with a militant minority, which are still there. But also excellent policing — a flexible response that allowed the event to go off without a major hitch. They’re being trained and formed to exercise crowd control and this was as good of an opportunity to practice all of that as any.”
Waschuk said “it will take time” before acceptance of equal rights becomes widespread in Ukraine. Even today in Canada and the United States, where LGBT rights are more accepted, all is not perfect, he said.
“This is something that in our countries took 25, 30, 40 years and still is not equally accepted across town and country,” Waschuk said. “So it’s a process.”
Many challenges ahead
Max Nefyodov, first deputy minister in Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, who attended the Kyiv Pride for the first time this year, told the Kyiv Post that the human rights situation in Ukraine has become better, but “nothing happens on its own.”
“We have to work,” he said. “(I came here) to show support of human rights. I think it’s essential to show that people here are absolutely normal and competent. Look, there are people with kids here, and they are not nervous.”
Viktor Onysko, 34, has come to the Kyiv Pride with his wife and a three-and-half-year-old daughter.
“We have some concerns, of course,” he said. “But not much. This is my family. I am tired of arguing with my friends about tolerance. I felt I had to be here.”
Sweden’s Ambassador to Ukraine Martin Hagstrom also marked “the clear progress” towards rights’ equality in Ukraine.
“Visa freedom is a proof for that,” he said, adding that “many challenges still remain though.”
According to Søren Sønderstrup, gender advisor at the European Union Advisory Mission, “all basic human rights are in place in Ukraine – legally.”
“But many people don’t want others to exercise them. That’s the problem,” he said.