Metro Weekly

LGBTQ Ukrainians fear crackdown amid Russian occupation

Some LGBTQ Ukrainians see Russia not only as an invader, but an existential threat to the freedoms they currently enjoy.

Ukrainian flag – Photo: Max Kukurudziak, via Unsplash.

Some LGBTQ Ukrainians fear the ramifications of a Russian occupation, which they believe would lead to a crackdown on LGBTQ rights, especially should a pro-Russian puppet government be installed.

“That would mean a direct threat to me and especially, well, to me and to the person I love,” Ilulia, an 18-year-old law student from the city of Kharkiv, in the country’s eastern region, told CBS News. “In Russia, LGBTQ people are persecuted. If we imagine that Russia occupies all of the Ukraine or just a big part of the country, they won’t allow us to exist peacefully and to fight for our rights as we are able to do that in Ukraine right now.”

In Russia, same-sex marriages are banned, and the country has had a law in place since 2013 that bans so-called “gay propaganda” that prohibits organizations and schools from presenting information that portrays homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation, or promotes “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors.

Under the law, advocates are prohibited from talking about or presenting LGBTQ-related information even in a neutral light, such as a pamphlet warning about the risk of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections marketed toward gay men. Violators can be forced to crease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners who break the law may be fined or arrested and detained for up to 15 days before being deported.

Russia’s government has also failed to take decisive action to stop human rights violations in Chechnya, an autonomous Muslim-majority region within the country that has come under scrutiny in recent years due to its persecution of gay and bisexual men.

Hundreds of men have reportedly been arrested and detained against their will, tortured, and in some cases, even killed. Those who are eventually released are monitored by local authorities and have even been falsely accused of “terrorism” in order to prevent them from moving away, effectively trapping them in the region and placing them at greater risk of future mistreatment.

“We still have a lot of things to do about our rights and our freedoms, but in Ukraine, you can fully express yourself,” Ilulia added. “It’s much more safer than in Russia, believe me. It’s much easier.”

Edward Reese, a project assistant for Kyiv Pride, contrasted the freedoms that Ukrainians enjoy compared to Russia, even if the society is more conservative than countries in Western Europe and the Americas.

“Ukraine is a European country. We have a 10-year history of Pride marches, and as you know, in Russia, the situation is like opposite,” Reese told CBS News. “We have totally different paths. … We see the changes in people’s thoughts about human rights, LGBTQ, feminism and so on. … So definitely we don’t want anything connected to Russia … and we won’t have them.”

Reese said the LGBTQ community has helped raise money for Ukrainian forces, with Kyiv Pride even offering a first-aid course to its members to assist anybody injured in the fighting.

Last week, the United States sent a letter to the United Nations warning that Russia had created a “kill list” of Ukrainians to be attacked or detained in case of an invasion. The list reportedly names prominent journalists, human rights activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBTQ Ukrainians — all of whom would be natural enemies of Russia’s right-wing authoritarian government.

Some LGBTQ Ukrainians have signed up for territorial defense forces to repel the Russian invasion, according to the Daily Beast

“Many LGBT+ activists, who have an experience of participation in the Euromaidan events, are joining the Territorial Defense forces or holding training in paramedical help,” Andrii Kravchuk, who works at the Kyiv-based LGBTQ Nash Svit Center, told the publication. “LGBT+ people who served in the army and military volunteers are ready to come back to their service. We are doing the same as the rest of the nation.

“Now we have only two options: either we defend our country, and it will become a part of the free world, or there will not be any freedom for us and will not be Ukraine at all,” he added.

In a related story, a group of Russian soldiers in Kharkiv who had gone AWOL were beaten and captured by LGBTQ activists, according to Israel Hayom. The soldiers reportedly hid in a basement that has been used by the city’s LGBTQ community, but were soon discovered and detained.

“This is our war, the Ukrainians, but we have also been fighting as LGBTQ people, and I’m sure that the comrades in Kharkiv understood that,” Viktor Pilipanko, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights activist told the Israeli magazine. “We are confronting a tyrannical, homophobic enemy.”

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