This Is What Ukraine Pride Marchers Want the World to Know
18 June, 2017

“We exist and we want the same rights as other people,” participants tell Hromadske at Kyiv’s fifth annual pride. It was a record-breaking success with 2500 participants coming out in support of LGBTI community. Hromadske spoke to participants at why this event was important to them.

To participants, the parade was important as, “Every person has the right to peaceful gathering, to peaceful expression, to freedom of speech. If we are talking about Ukrainian citizens, we should all have equal rights.”

The event remained peaceful and safe despite the 300 opponents who gathered to protest the event who seized flags from participants and burned them. Six opponents were arrested.

Compare to previous years, according to participants, this year’s pride parade had more of a party atmosphere like other prides in the world.

Kyiv pride, which is also called the Equality March, aims to draw attention to the rights of LGBTI people in Ukraine and to overcome discrimination and violence against them.

To get more insight on what took place, Hromadske spoke with attendee and European Parliament Member Rebecca Harms and Kyiv Pride Organizer Anna Dovgopol about their impressions of this year's event.

Let's discuss Kyiv pride which took place today. We can already say it was a major success. There were many people who came to the streets of Kyiv. Anna, as one of the organizers, what do you need to say? What do people need to know about this particular pride. How do you feel about it?

Anna Dovgopol: On behalf of the organizers and myself personally I want to say that we are happy. We are excited, we’re tired but also very relieved that everything went safely. I wish we could come to that point in time when we feel only happy, when we don’t need to feel thrilled and afraid of the opponents. One of the most important things I want to say is that the police were almost perfect this year and we are very grateful to them.

Rebecca, what would be your message?

Rebecca Harms: I can continue where you just finished. I met the chief of the national police during the Eurovision song contest days. The police were already very busy in Ukraine, in Kyiv to guarantee the safe stay of many many people visiting Kyiv, and we talked then on measures taken for pride, to guarantee pride. And today I can see Kyiv national police did a very professional job with the people marching. Also the police protected the rule of law and the rights of everybody in Kyiv. The right to protest, the right to march, and I liked it.

How was your cooperation with the police because that’s the point? Pride can’t take place in Ukraine today if there’s no security and protection.

Anna Dovgopol: Personally I wasn’t involved in the cooperation but I talked to my colleagues who did that and they said that it wasn’t smooth all the way, partially because police were very busy with Eurovision. But then there were not so many obstacles as there used to be before. The police were for the most part cooperative, it’s obviously not an ideal situation and there’s still a ways to go.

Rebecca Harms: In the very beginning today, I think, they found a very professional way to de-escalate the situation and separate pride from the anti-LGBT people, the right-wingers or whoever it was. It was very clear and very safe for the participants during pride and I can say that compared to last year it was much more relaxed.

There were up to 300 people who opposed the pride, there were members of different far-right groups. They were yelling, chanting. We know that 7 of them have been arrested but there was no major violence, from what I understand no one was really hurt. What do we know as of right now?

Anna Dovgopol: We know that 3 or 4 people were attacked after the march, when they left. One person was beaten when he was going out of a cafe and getting in a taxi. I think his finger is broken. Another person was chased to his house where he lives on the outskirts of the city. In know that two police officers were injured, but these injuries, we can say that they are minor compared to the danger that was expected and compared to last year’s pride.

What else would you say about the amount of people, the issues people raised?How was the feeling compared to the other prides which are taking place globally?

Rebecca Harms: Normally the prides I joined in Western European countries, especially also in Germany, we don’t need this kind of police work. Clearly I would appreciate if in Ukraine we would see pride not needing this kind of defence and protection. But I can say that today I spoke to many participants, I met the mothers of LGBT people, I met colleagues from the Rada, Svitlana Zalichuk, I met Ambassadors from Canada. I know that also the UK Ambassador was there, many of the staff from EU embassies, my friends from Munich. And everybody confirmed that we feel a bit more people participating but mainly they felt very relaxed and protected. Last year it was a bit more nervous.

Anna Dovgopol: I agree to what Rebecca has said. I was at the beginning of the column so I didn’t get to see much. I still had to march after the two rows of the police officers, but I know that this year the march was much more diverse in terms of the different groups within the LGBT community that were represented, there were more radical and more liberal groups, there were more drag queens, we had a lot of international guests. And this is what a real march of equality, diversity, whatever you call it, should look like.

There were people also there who would protest, I’m not speaking about the far-right or somebody who would use violence, but people who speak about traditional family values, they try to be loud but not violent. How do you see this and what would be the answer for the larger part of the Ukrainian population who probably stayed at home? What would you like to address?

Anna Dovgopol: That people are different. The slogan and political agenda of this year’s pride was “a country for all”: family for all, medicine for all, education for all, you name it. This means that people who live in this country, on this territory, they’re different, they’re so diverse, but this shouldn’t mean that some people should be more privileged than other people, or that some people should be more underprivileged than others. If people want to build what we call a “traditional family” they’re free to do that, other people are free to build other types of families if they feel comfortable with that and if they don’t harm other people. This is the most obvious answer that is there.

What are the challenges that are still remaining? We see that there were a lot of police, but with communication there were a couple MPs, some representatives of the government and some of them really, like the Vice Prime Minister who expressed her support on her facebook page before. But still in your conversation there was no support from the President, Prime Minister, and a lot of other people.

Rebecca Harms: I think it will come. I remember when we started to march in Germany in the months of pride it was also not like today that that many politicians joined or had their coming out, so it changed over the years. I think in Ukraine it will also change. I am of the deep belief that Ukrainians are, at heart, a non-violent society. I remember very well the explosion against Yanukovych when he sent the Berkut to the non-violent action on Maidan. Since we’ve seen a lot of change because of the war but I think at the core Ukrainian society is a tolerant society and wants to live in peace. So the main slogan today was really Ukraine is a country for all and we will get there.

Anna Dovgopol: I have read on Facebook and also in the media positive statements from some of the political leaders, not necessarily MPs, who say that they’re happy pride took place and that everything was safe. I have also seen Max Nefyodov at pride, who works at the ministry of [economy] and several others, and that was a very positive signal.

In general do you think that the theme, at least in public space, the way that people speak about pride has changed? It’s true that during the time of conflict in a society that is not very used to, and it’s not secret that in Eastern Europe not a lot of people are used to pride and to honest discussion about the LGBTI community. Have you felt that the discourse has shifted?

Anna Dovgopol: I have. It started last year when, as a reaction to the far-right’s threats, so many people came out into the streets. People who have nothing to do with the LGBT community but who came to support the right to expressions and the freedoms that they stood for at Maidan several years ago. It did change. People started to react in a more calm way. They say it should not be an issue and we don’t see why it should be an issue. In a free country everybody should have equal rights. So the discourse, I mean of course in Kyiv and among a certain group of people who communicate on Facebook and on social media changed, but we still have a long way to go.

What are the remaining issues that need to be solved and could be solved at the level of the government or the parliament? To change public opinion is a long process.

Anna Dovgopol: Among the most pressing ones are the new labour code, that would include, among other things, protections on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity because in the new version it’s not there. It was in the old version and it seems like it was only for the visa-free regime. Also we desperately need protection laws that would articulate hate-crimes and hate-speech as specific types of crimes and there should be punishment for that. The law should recognize that the problem is there. So far it doesn’t exist for most groups, not just LGBT groups. And obviously some regulations and partnerships, to name a few.

It's already been one week that Ukrainian’s enjoy a visa-free regime with the European Union and there is a bit of a question here of whether it is a case of saying that since a major success has been achieved you don’t need to fulfill all these criteria anymore. I’m speaking about politically, for the government. It’s true that this law has been adopted because there were these promises connected to a visa-free regime. Do you have this feeling that there would be different opportunities to drive some of the reluctant members of parliament to do things and make reforms, to support human rights? What would be your reaction?

Rebecca Harms: Nobody should think that once you have organized pride you can forget about rights issues for minorities LGBT people. All the criteria must not be fulfilled or met only once. We need implementation of laws which have been prepared and the EU will carefully follow the implementation. On the other hand, whatever we can do to make Ukraine more democratic and a democratically stable country, the main change should not be based only on our criteria. The main change in society should be based on conviction. I see that in many parts of society there is a good move and we can support this with our criteria, we can support this by sometimes knocking on the door of the Rada and asking what are you really doing? But democracy is always built by the citizens of a country and not from outside.

/Text by Chen Ou Yang