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20th Sep 2018

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Kiev pride: A test of EU values

  • Last weekend's pride: Fifteen out of the 200 or so rights activists were hopsitalised (Photo: nick storchay)

The equality march in Kiev last Saturday (6 June) wasn’t the first of its kind, but attracted more attention and stronger reactions than ever.

Ukraine’s LGBT community tried to organise the first march in 2012. But participants were physically blocked by radical right-wing groups and by religious groups linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

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In 2013, thanks to the participation of the mayor of Munich and a large delegation of European guests, the marchers got the protection of more than 1,000 Kiev police officers.

Radicals and Christians tried to disrupt the event, but none of the participants were hurt.

Last year, the Kiev mayor said the march shouldn’t go ahead because of the military conflict in east Ukraine. Police refused to protect it and the organsiers abandoned their plans. 

The 2015 edition was the most scandalous in the young history of Ukraine’s pride movement.

Ukrainian society is split on the issue.

The majority of public opinion supports the march on broad human rights grounds. People who took part on Saturday included civil society activists, famous poets, journalists, and MPs, as well as LGBT activists themselves.

It prompted public statements that Ukraine should go further and prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Some of its opponents say now is not the time due to Russian aggression.

The more radical ones, such as Dmitry Yarosh, an MP from the far-right Pravy Sektor group, say LGBT rights contradict and offend Christian values. He pledged, on Facebook, to make sure the march fails.

For his part, Hryhoriy Nemyria, the chairman of parliament’s human rights committee, at the request of Amnesty International, urged the interior minister to give us full protection.

But Vitaly Klichko, the ex-boxing champion and Kiev mayor urged us to cancel the event.

Twitter wars

The debate saw an extraordinary battle unfold on social networks: Thousands of Ukrainians argued back and forth whether the country is ready for this kind of thing.


There was a strong element of Russian propaganda.

Russian commentators tried to spread hate, describing gay people as paedophiles, zoophytes, and deviants.

They said the LGBT march would be a topless carnival rather than a celebration of human rights. They called it a “feast” during a “plague”.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko himself, in a press conference on the eve of the event, said he won’t take part because he’s a Christian. But he said LGBT activists and their supporters have the right to peaceful assembly.

In the end, about 200 people took part.

They included the ambassador of Sweden and his wife, and Ukrainian MPs Serhiy Leshchenko and Svetlana Zalishchuk, who made appeals for tolerance. 

The march was, again, guarded by more than 1,000 police.

It was targeted by numerous radical groups, especially the right-wing Svoboda Party. They tried to break through the police cordon, and when they failed, they started throwing firecrackers, smoke bombs, and petards.

Real wars

One fragment pierced the artery of a policeman. He was lucky to survive and required intensive care.

The people who live in Obolon, the Kiev district where the march took place, then watched a tragi-comic spectacle, which lasted almost all day: LGBT activists hiding from or being chased by far-right activists, who were, in turn, hiding from or being chased by police.

By evening, some 15 LGBT activists had to be hospitalised. Five more policemen were also hurt.

The 2015 pride march showed that the pendulum of public opinion is swinging toward European values on open societies and respect for minorities.

But it also showed the enemies of the LGBT movement remain strong. They remain ready to kill for their ideas, no matter what the president says.

The road to a tolerant, European Ukraine will be long and dangerous.

Bogdan Globa is director of the All-Ukrainian Charitable Organisation Fulcrum, a Kiev-based NGO

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