Ukraine’s second ever gay pride march faces axe

LGBT protestors in Ukraine. [Amnesty International]

EXCLUSIVE/ The second gay pride demonstration in Ukraine’s history will be cancelled for the second time in as many years, unless promises of police protection are made for the marchers before this Saturday (6 June).

EURACTIV has learned that the planned protest in Kyiv could still be forbidden by court order, if Mayor Vitali Klitshko applies for one.

But it is up to the Kyiv Police to offer security to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists, who want to demonstrate on 6 June.

“Without this protection, they will be killed. It will be a massacre,” Bogdan Ovcharuk, of Amnesty International, told EURACTIV in Kyiv.

The first, and so far only, protest for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Ukraine was targeted by far larger homophobic mobs in Kyiv in 2013.

About 100 protestors were shielded by an estimated 1,000 cops, who arrested 13 people for trying to break up the meeting.

Ovcharuk said the counter-protestors were a mix of about 1,000 far-right groups, football fans and religious organisations. LGBT activists were bussed in under protection and circled by officers to protect them, as they would have to be again this year, if the march goes ahead.

Last year’s march was cancelled after Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said that the crisis in Ukraine meant such “entertainment events” were inappropriate. There were also no guarantees of police protection for LGBT activists.

Amnesty International is lobbying both the city administration and the police to back the march. It called on the European Union to increase political pressure to ensure it goes ahead.

“The first event was only held because of EU pressure,” said Ovcharuk.

A meeting last Thursday with officers to discuss this year’s march was postponed until this week. Today, (Monday 1 June), is a bank holiday in Ukraine, meaning time is running out for the guarantees to be delivered.

“Nobody knows if this is going to go ahead,” said Ovcharuk, when he met EURACTIV in Kyiv on Friday.

Ovcharuk told EURACTIV that the small group of demonstrators would not turn up without police protection. He expected 60-100 protestors if security was guaranteed.

“The police is able and it must provide security, not just for LGBT protestors, but everybody who wants to peacefully gather, including the counter-protestors,” he said.

Homophobia in Ukraine remains widespread. One Western European working in Kyiv said anyone of the same sex holding hands in public faced being attacked. He joked he would not be surprised if people took time off work to try and break up the demonstration.

As part of Ukraine’s negotiations with the EU on a visa-free regime, it must adopt certain laws. Among them is legislation guaranteeing equal treatment for LGBT people in the workplace.

>>Read: EU demands more reforms from Ukraine to lift visa barrier

“As far as I know,” said Ovcharuk, “that is the only law that has not been supported by the parliament”.

Although homosexuality is legal in Ukraine, in 2012, on first reading, lawmakers adopted a draft law to make the promotion of homosexuality a criminal offence.

In May, the European Commission said a review of Ukraine showed distinct progress in meeting the standards required to allow citizens to enter EU nations for short stays without needing a visa.

“The assessment found that, despite the exceptional circumstances that Ukraine currently faces, the progress achieved […] has been noteworthy,” the Commission said in a statement.

The first LGBT rights protest in Ukraine was held in 2013. Last year's was cancelled, becuase the Kyiv Police would not offer marchers protection against anti-homosexual counter-protestors. This year's march is now in doubt for similar reasons.

Homophobia is widespread in Ukraine, but LGBT rights are a condition of a visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU.

Achieving visa-free travel to the EU is an objective which the governments of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have kept high on their agenda and they are at different stages of implementation.

It's a goal strongly supported by public opinion in these countries, which see obstacles to obtaining European visas as unfair. The EU regards the push for visa-free travel from these countries as legitimate, but insists on a number of conditions to be fulfilled before the goal is attained.

  • 6 June: LGBT protest in Kyiv

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