Ukraine’s LGBT community is becoming more visible but so are opponents of equal rights, says Kyiv Pride PR Head Tymur Levchuk.
Thousands of activists and allies converged on Kyiv’s city center on June 17 for what has been hailed as the biggest Pride march for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights held in Ukraine to date.
While police estimated 3500 participants for the event, Kyiv Pride executive officer Ruslana Panukhnik said she believes the numbers were closer to 5000.
Pride in Ukraine isn’t just gaining support from the public. This year three Ukrainian MPs, including Serhiy Leshchenko and Svitlana Zalishchuk, marched through Kyiv, along with foreign delegations, in support of LGBT rights.
For the first time the event was also supported by Ukrainian celebrities. Among them were Ukrainian singers Iryna Bilyk and Zianja (the transgender pop star formerly known as April).
But while support for both the event and equality for the LGBT community is growing, Kyiv Pride’s Levchuk said its opponents are also becoming more vocal. “I think it’s a normal process in our country and other countries,” he said.
Some 2500 law enforcement officers stood on guard for Kyiv Pride, keeping out anti-LGBT protesters, who attempted to block the march.
Police detained 57 people after minor clashes broke out between law enforcement and far-right radical groups, who tried to prevent the march from going ahead.
Halfway through the march officers also had to remove a group of young people who broke through the police cordon and tried to stop the marchers from moving forward.
Panukhnik said she was aware of two cases where people – including one Kyiv Pride volunteer – were attacked with pepper spray before and after the march.
She however praised police efforts in securing the rally.
“Since 2016, we’ve had full support from the city and the police. We have good cooperation [with the police]. We [are] very satisfied with that,” she said.
While police have supported large scale events in recent years, human rights groups are still battling for law enforcement officers to effectively respond to smaller scale events and individual incidents.
According to Amnesty International, far-right groups have staged at least 30 attacks on LGBT, women’s rights and left-wing activists, as well as Roma families in recent months.
Furthermore, legal protection for the LGBT community in Ukraine remains weak. Ukraine banned discrimination against LGBT people in employment in 2015, following pressure from the European Union. The bill was one of the provisions for granting Ukrainian citizens visa-free travel within the EU. However, this remains the only LGBT-specific protection written into law.
Panukhnik believes that in order to advance LGBT equality in Ukraine maximum implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy is needed. The strategy, which is officially only in the planning stages, includes protection for the LGBT community, addressing issues of hate crime and the introduction of civil partnerships.
READ MORE: How Ukraine Marked Pride 2018 (PHOTOS)