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Hundreds gather in Ukraine’s Kyiv for war-shrouded Pride march

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Under the pouring rain and overshadowed by war, Dina Ivanova joined the few hundred who gathered in Kyiv on Sunday for the Ukrainian capital’s first Pride march since the Russian invasion, guarded by a heavy police presence.

Shortly after Ivanova and other participants dispersed after a brief rally that took place behind a police cordon, nationalist militants set off for a counter-demonstration through the streets of Kyiv where they shouted homophobic slurs.

The opposing rallies took place more than two years into the war, which is often portrayed as an existential fight to join European liberal values, though some of Ukraine remains deeply conservative.

People take part in the “Kyiv Pride 2024” in Kyiv on Sunday, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo: AFP

“Even through the attacks, we need to come and show up. We are such a country, such a nation, we don’t give up. If our rights are taken, we fight for them,” said 27-year-old Ivanova.

She contrasted the situation in Ukraine with that of Russia, where the Kremlin has accelerated its repression of the LGBTQ community since launching its full-scale invasion in 2022.

“I’m very happy that I live in a country where I can even go to Pride,” Ivanova said.

“Those damned Russians can’t.”

The timing and location of the Pride march had not been publicly announced until Sunday morning for security reasons.

In the end, around 500 people were registered for a mostly static gathering within a tightly policed perimeter. In contrast to such gatherings around the world, the slogans they chanted reflected a country at war: “Arm Ukraine Now” and “United towards victory”.

Ukrainian servicemen and LGBTQ community activists carry a banner bearing the photographs of fallen servicemen as they take part in the “Kyiv Pride 2024” in Kyiv on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Among the participants were several openly LGBTQ soldiers, including 28-year-old Petro Zherukha, whose unit gave him leave to attend the rally.

Polls show a growing acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender people since the outbreak of the war, with LGBTQ soldiers joining the ranks of the armed forces.

“For many of my comrades, I was the first LGBT person they had ever seen,” Zherukha said. “It was as if they had come into contact with an alien.”

“There were a lot of questions, but I think that after we talked a lot … everything became very cool,” he said.

Some of those in uniform carried a large banner bearing the photographs of fallen servicemen and women.

One demand shared by many in the crowd was for the government to allow same-sex civil partnerships.

A protester (right) carries a placard reading “Ukraine for Nato – Peace in Europe for everyone” as they take part in the “Kyiv Pride 2024” in Kyiv on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The lack of a legal framework for same-sex couples means that the partners of LGBTQ soldiers killed or wounded may not even be informed of what happened to their loved ones.

“Is that fair, when people are sacrificing their lives? No,” said Marlene Scandal, a drag queen crowned with rainbow flowers and a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian trident.

Several diplomats also attended the march. Denmark’s ambassador Ole Egberg Mikkelsen noted that one of the conditions for European Union membership required the protection of minorities.

An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians want to join the EU, with polls hovering around 80 per cent in favour.

But the idea of EU membership as well as same-sex marriage sparked the ire of the counter-protesters.

Protesters hold a banner reading “Dad, Mom and I, a happy family” during a demonstration against the “Kyiv Pride 2024” march in Kyiv on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Right as the Pride rally ended, a few hundred militants ran down the main Khreshchatyk avenue towards the empty street where the rally had been held.

Police then escorted them around the neighbourhood, while they shouted slogans against Russia, and death threats against gay people.

One of the organisers of the march, standing next to a man wearing a swastika on his cap, denied the death threats were homophobic.

And 21-year-old Oleksandr Tymoshenko, from the Right Sector youth group, said he was protesting “not against gays” but against the LGBTQ movement “fighting for special rights”.

“All countries in Eastern Europe, and especially the post-Soviet states, are very much characterised by conservatism and tradition. Ukraine is no exception,” he said.


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