UARU
How Ukraine Marked Pride 2018 (PHOTOS)
18 June, 2018

Some 3,500 people rallied in Kyiv’s city center on Sunday to take part in the annual Equality March for LGBT rights. This year’s March, believed to be the biggest yet, lasted 26 minutes.

Surrounded by a heavy police presence, participants marched from the National Opera to Ploshcha Lva Tolstoho metro station, waving rainbow flags and chanting: “Rebel, love, don’t give up your rights!”

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Many of the participants already knew each other. Alongside them, marched Kyiv Pride volunteers wearing green hi-vis jackets. Their task was to not only welcome the marchers holding placards but to order the crowds into columns and inform participants of the risks and security measures, which are the same every year: do not argue with any protesters, treat each other with respect and behave politely. People assured us that they were not afraid to march.

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Left to right: Ukrainian MP Svitlana Zalishchuk, MEP Rebecca Harms and journalist Maxim Eristavi at Kyiv Pride Equality March, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Among the event’s participants was 23-year-old Serhiy. While he is openly gay in his circle of friends, he asks for his name to be changed for the story for safety reasons.

Serhiy is from Donetsk. On April 28, 2014, he went with his friends to the last pro-Ukrainian protest in Donetsk, danced in city’s only gay club and then got on the last train to Kyiv.

Almost 2,500 police were deployed to maintain public order during the Equality March. As a result of clashes with anti-LGBT protesters both before and during the March, 57 people were detained, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Drag queen Diva Monro and participants of the Equality March, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasiya Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

He says that his departure was symbolic. A few months later Donetsk’s art center – which was like Sergei’s second home – closed down.

“We could all wake up in a dystopian society one day. I woke up there once when Chechens in tanks appeared on my street,” he recalls. Serhiy admits he never liked Donetsk. It’s too Soviet and one of the most homophobic cities in the country, he said.

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Serhiy came to the march with his friends, who are straight, but, like many, have come to support the LGBT activists. Many have made signs for the March, which feature a variety of slogans such as “rights for all” and “all are different, all are equal.”

Serhiy wanted to bring only two things to Pride: a rainbow and a Donetsk flag. He couldn’t bring the latter however because it’s impossible to buy a Donetsk flag in Kyiv.  

Drag queen stage and Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Representatives from human rights organization Amnesty International Ukraine. Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Stanislava is also from Donetsk. The 25-year-old marched draped in a Ukrainian flag with the word ‘Donetsk’ written on it.

“We came to Pride for the same reason we left Donetsk,” she said. “We don’t share patriarchal values and all these things that are imposed there now, we want to live in a free country, where everyone can build their lives in the way they want. And really, these marches are changing the situation. For example, my mother helped me get ready for the march today.”

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Drag queen stage and Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasiya Vlasova/Hromadske

Since the first equality march held in Kyiv in 2013, the event has grown from around 100 activists to thousands of people, which today include human rights groups, LGBT representatives, and allies. Some travel from other regions to attend the event.

Kateryna traveled to Kyiv for Pride from Zaporizhia. She wanted to take part in the march because she believes everyone should be entitled to equal rights.

“I also don’t understand why some radical groups should be able to decide who to love and what to demand from the government,” she said.

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

In recent years, Kyiv Pride has gained support from various officials. Leading the first column of people were Ukrainian MPs Serhii Leshchenko and Svitlana Zalishchuk, joined by German MEP Rebecca Harms. German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth also came to Kyiv, especially for Pride.

US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was also in attendance, along with 60 representatives from the American embassy and her dog. Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk and German Ambassador Ernst Reichel also came to support Ukraine’s LGBT community.

Representatives from the human rights organization Amnesty International had their own column.

Drag queen stage and Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

Equality March participant, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

For the second year in a row, there was also a drag queen stage. They waved rainbow flags and sang “It’s Raining Men,” which has unofficially become an anthem for the LGBT community.   

But despite growing support for LGBT rights, homophobia remains a prevalent problem throughout the country. Barricades and thousands of law enforcement officers surround the marchers, keeping out anti-LGBT protesters chanting “shame” and “no sodomy”.

Halfway through the March, a group of young people broke through the blockade and tried to stop the marchers from moving forward, however they were quickly removed by police. In the lead up to the event, police detained 57 people, who were being aggressive and attempted to block the territory where the march was due to take place.

Towards the end of the 1.5-kilometer walk, Serhiy tells Hromadske he is unlikely to return to Donetsk – although he is convinced the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic won’t exist forever. He says Kyiv is much more comfortable for him to live in.

Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasiya Vlasova/Hromadske

Drag queen stage and Equality March participants, Kyiv, June 17, 2018. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Hromadske

He currently has a partner and although he is open about his sexual orientation, they don’t engage in public displays of affection. Safety comes first for them. Serhiy attends the March every year. Even though he scolds the LGBT community for internal homophobia and the rest of the society for homophobia in general, he believes the situation is improving. Although, there is a lot of work ahead.

When asked what kind of Ukraine he wants to live in, he says he wants a daughter.

“I want her to come to school and not be told: ooh, your parents are ‘f*****’. I want to officially register a marriage with my partner,” he said.

“I think it all depends on pressure from the West. See, the march is already in its fourth year and it turns out that’s possible. It turns out it’s possible to not chase people off and not to beat them with clubs. You know, I think every child needs a mother. So, I will tell my daughter to call me ‘mom’ and my partner ‘dad’. And that’s it: we will have a full family.”

/By Yuliana Skibitska and Anastasia Vlasova

/Translated and adapted by Natalie Vikhrov and Sofia Fedeczko