By Olga Tokariuk
Kiev, Sep 19 (EFE).- Some 7,000 people turned out for the Equality march in Ukraine’s capital Kiev on Sunday to call for greater rights for the LGBT+ community, organizers said.
Participants waved rainbow flags and held banners reading “This is my home country too,” “Together for equal rights,” “I exist,” and chanted slogans like “Rebel! Love! Do not give up on rights!”
To ensure security, there was a heavy police presence in central Kiev.
Several metro stations were closed to the general public, and metal gates were installed at the entrance to the venue, with participants screened with metal detectors.
After the end of the march, activists were escorted by the police to one of the metro stations on the outskirts of Kiev to avoid attacks by far-right and religious groups. No attacks were reported immediately after the end of the march.
“I don’t think it is normal when a human rights event feels like a special operation,” Amnesty International and LGBT activist Dzvenyslava Shcherba, who was leading the march with a rainbow flag in her hands, told Efe.
“All Pride participants received long security guidance before the event, there’s a lot of police, metal gates… This is wrong and that’s why we are here, because we want to be accepted.”
At the same time, Shcherba said that this was her fourth Pride and it felt safer than previous ones. Earlier this year, two gay pride marches took place in the cities of Kharkiv and Odesa.
There were minor scuffles between the police and far-right groups in Odesa, which ended in arrests, but no attacks no LGBT activists were reported.
“On the one hand, there is more visibility [for the LGBT+ community], people do become more open,” Shcherba acknowledged. “On the other hand, there are still a lot of legal limitations: LGBT+ people cannot marry or adopt children and hate crimes against them are not investigated.”
The main demands of the Equality march organizers this year were to adopt and implement laws on hate crime, as well as those allowing civil partnerships for LGBT+ people in Ukraine.
“There are [gay] couples who have been living together for 15, 20 years, who raise children, but the state doesn’t recognize them as families,” Olena Shevchenko, Kiev Pride coordinator and head of the NGO Insight, told Efe.
Her organization operates in 10 Ukrainian cities, promoting LGBT+, women’s rights and providing legal and psychological assistance.
“There is a big gap between the society, which is becoming more tolerant and accepting towards LGBT+ people, and politicians, who still believe that Ukraine is a very conservative country,” Shevchenko said.
LGBT WAR VETERANS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS
Among the participants of Kiev Pride were Ukrainian and international human rights NGOs, organizations of parents of LGBT+ children who face bullying, and a community of war veterans raising awareness about gay rights in the military. Several foreign embassies in Kiev, including Swedish, Dutch and Australian, also joined the march.
Viktor Pylypenko, one of the first veterans of Ukraine’s war with Russia who openly declared he was gay after leaving the army in 2018, wore his military uniform and decorations at the event.
Pylypenko is a co-founder of the NGO Ukrainian LGBT soldiers for equal rights, which has some 120 members.