By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine — Despite a ban issued by the city and upheld in court, LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Intersex) activists held Ukraine’s first gay rights march for forty minutes during the Kyiv Pride 2013 forum. And it appears that the police granted the activists protection.

Police remove Orthodox protestor who attempted to block Kyiv’s first gay pride event. (Photo Courtesy of Kyiv Post)

One organizer of the march, Stas Misthenko stated that the 2013 event was important to demonstrate possible change “[n]ot just in Ukraine, but for Russia, for Belarus, for Moldova.” Last year, organizers canceled their demonstration following both a statement that police could not guarantee protection for participants and the beating of an activist in broad daylight. Since then, one non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kyiv has received reports of twenty-nine violent attacks and thirty-six threats against LGBTI persons.

Recently, however, Ukraine has been under pressure to improve its human rights. For instance, the European Council established deadlines for Ukraine to demonstrate such progress by making judicial and electoral reforms, as well as releasing political prisoners. Also, the CEO of Amnesty International Ukraine, Tetiana Mazur declared, “The Ukrainian legislation doesn’t provide an adequate protection and sometimes violates the rights of [LGBT] people. Ukraine is unable to guarantee the protection of their principal freedoms. The right for freedom from the discrimination, the right to security of person, integrity and the right to freedom of assembly.”

Mazur also called for Ukraine to oppose legislation that would criminalize the “propaganda of homosexuality”, and instead promote legislation addressing LGBTI discrimination. According to Misthenko, the vast majority of LGBTI people hide their sexual identities for fear of being beaten in the streets or fired from their jobs.

Several right-wing and religious groups in Ukraine threatened that, if held, this year’s march would result in violence. Archpriest Greorgy Kovalenko of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church explained that rather than a chance to defend rights, the Equality March “was propaganda for sin and sodomy.”

On May 21, 2013, Kyiv officials sought to bar events from the city center on May 25 not linked to the Kyiv City Day celebration, including the Equality March. The Kyiv city administration stated that in light of several applications for rallies supporting opposing views, the government was “obliged to take the necessary measures to ensure public order and protect people’s lives and safety.”

To prevent violence, a court in Ukraine upheld the ban on March 23.

Nevertheless, on March 25, 2013, the Equality March took place amidst strong police presence. Reports indicate that over one hundred pro-LGBTI activists were present. While demonstrators marched on Victory Avenue, Orthodox Christians denounced them by shouting slogans. One slogan included: “Ukraine is not America. Kyiv is not Sodom.”

After police detained thirteen persons protesting against gay rights, improvement appears very likely for Ukraine’s human rights.

For further information, please see:

Kyiv Post: Police Detain about ten Opponents of Equality March in Kyiv — 25 May 2013

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty — Gay Pride Activists Briefly March in Kyiv — 25 May 2013

Reuters — Ukraine’s First Gay March Held under Police Protection — 25 May 2013

EuroNews — Kiev Court Cites Security Reasons for Banning Gay Pride Rally — 24 May 2013

Interfax Ukraine — Organizers Try to Hold Gay Pride Parade in Kyiv on May 25 Despite Court Ban — 24 May 2013

Amnesty International — Ukraine: Kyiv Authorities in Shameful About-Face on Pride March — 23 May 2013

Human Rights Watch — Ukraine: Allow Equality March, Protect Participants — 23 May 2013

National Radio Company of Ukraine — Court Bans LGBT Equality March in Kyiv on May 25 — 23 May 2013

Reuters — Ukranian Court Bars Gay Pride Event, Citing Security Concerns — 23 May 2013

Guardian — Ukraine Gay Pride Marchers Ready to Defy Violence — 18 May 2013

Kyiv Post — Amnesty International Urging Ukraine to Adopt Laws to Combat Discrimination against LGBT People — 17 May 2013

Author: Benjamin Kopp