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Ukrainian group buoyed by reception at WorldPride

But Kiev Pride may become focal point of Ukraine-Russia confrontation

LGBT activists from Ukraine marched in Toronto’s WorldPride parade on June 29. The enthusiastic reception they received will hopefully help them through this coming weekend when they plan to march in Kiev Pride, the second annual Pride celebration in the Ukrainian capital.  

Despite feeling buoyed by the wave of support they received at WorldPride in Toronto on June 29, organizers of Kiev Pride (also spelled Kyiv Pride) are concerned that resistance from local police and city officials may force them to cancel their own parade on Saturday, July 5.

“Basically, they told us they don’t have enough forces to ensure our security, and they are not really willing to protect us during [this] situation in Ukraine, with anti-terroristic operations,” says Kiev Pride co-chair Elena Shevchenko. “Basically, they think that it’s not a good time to have a parade.” 

As of July 3, Shevchenko says Kiev authorities and police seem “not really interested” in providing adequate security for the march, which was moved last year because of protests, arrests and attempts at violence and was cancelled in 2012, its inaugural year, because of threats of violence.

“Partially, I guess it can be true,” Shevchenko says of the authorities’ security concerns this year. “But you don’t have to have enough forces; you have to have trained people who know how to deal with those issues.”

Shevchenko admits that Kiev Pride has received several threats of violent protest this year from ultra-rightwing groups in Ukraine.

“We will continue our work in any case, [but] if it comes to public gathering, if you invited LGBTQ people, you need to be really careful with their security,” she says, “because that’s your responsibility if you invite the people to the streets.” 

Shevchenko will be meeting with authorities again on July 4 to reassess the situation, and while the decision could go either way, she is not hopeful. “Now, today, I feel more pessimistic than optimistic,” she says. “We don’t expect any positive developments, unfortunately.”

Just days earlier, Shevchenko’s co-chair Taras Karasiichuk was amazed by the cheering crowds that greeted the Ukrainian contingent in the WorldPride parade in Toronto. 

The enthusiasm from the WorldPride celebrations may be needed. In addition to resistance from local authorities, Kiev Pride may also become a focal point in the ongoing fight between pro-Russian and pro-European forces. 

Masha Gessen, a Russian LGBT activist who also attended WorldPride, says the fight in Ukraine represents more than a fight over territory. “That is where the clash over civilizations is happening,” Gessen said at an event supporting the Ukrainian activists. Gessen describes a clash between pro-Russian forces, who support Russia’s anti-gay legislation and culture, versus pro-European forces who tend to be more supportive of gay rights.

The use of LGBT issues for political gain in Ukraine has been flagged before. “The LGBT issue has been set up as a dividing issue around Ukraine,” Graeme Reid, the director of LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch, told Daily Xtra earlier this year.

Keep checking back with Daily Xtra, which will have a correspondent reporting from Kiev Pride.