Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nationalists Promise 'Bloody Mess' As Kyiv's LGBTs Prepare To March

A woman holds a placard reading "Stop discrimination" as she takes part in a rally of Ukrainian activists and representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in front of parliament in Kyiv in November 2015.

KYIV -- The battle lines are being drawn in the Ukrainian capital.

Activists supporting the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are determined to hold a March of Equality on June 12. Many of Ukraine's nationalists and cultural conservatives seem equally determined to stop them -- even if that means violence and bloodshed.

Artem Skoropadskiy, a spokesman for the far-right Right Sector movement, predicted on Facebook on May 29 that "on June 12 in Kyiv there will be a bloody mess."

Mykola Kokhanivskyy, chairman of the Volunteer Movement Of The Organization Of Ukrainian Nationalists (DROUN), told RFE/RL that his organization feels justified in using violence to prevent "perverts" from marching.

"The majority is categorically opposed to letting these perverts publicly demonstrate their perversion," Kokhanivskyy said. "Since the majority opposes this, they shouldn't do it. We can go through the courts or use other means to ban it. But if this doesn't happen, then upset citizens have the right to use force against this illegal manifestation of perversion."

These are not idle threats.

In 2015, 10 marchers and five police officers were injured when counterdemonstrators attacked the Kyiv gay-pride rally, despite the fact that U.S. and European diplomats were marching in solidarity.

In March, an LGBT event in Lviv was shut down prematurely when some 200 far-right demonstrators surrounded the venue shouting, "Kill, kill, kill."

The first attempt to hold a gay-pride event in Kyiv came in 2012, but it was canceled at the request of the authorities following threats of violence. In 2014, the event was also abandoned after police informed organizers on the eve of the march that they could not ensure security.

In 2013, some 100 marchers faced off against 500 or so demonstrators at an event far from the center of Kyiv to successfully hold Ukraine's first LGBT rally.

Protesters attack a policeman during the Equality March organized by the LGBT community in Kyiv in June 2015.
Protesters attack a policeman during the Equality March organized by the LGBT community in Kyiv in June 2015.

Fears Of Violence

Moreover, discrimination and violence are a daily reality for LGBT people in Ukraine.

"I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the LGBT community, and I see how they are discriminated against on a daily basis," says Ian Gubskiy, who is gay and transgender. "Some people can't even appear on the streets because they might be beaten at any moment. Literally yesterday, they tried to attack a friend of mine and we had to defend him."

This year, the story is shaping up similarly. About 600 people have registered to participate in the event, while some 13,000 people have endorsed a petition calling on the city government to ban the march.

Organizers said 20 members of the parliament and an array of Western diplomats have pledged to join the march.

Police have promised to deploy 6,500 officers to prevent clashes.

"We are prepared and ready to ensure public safety," says Ihor Boyko, speaking for police who are coordinating event security. "The march will be held."

Boyko rejects rumors on social media that some police officers had refused to protect the marchers, saying such claims were "a provocation."

On June 7, three men claiming to be police officers said they had refused to work at the event and called for the dismissal of the national police force. The men said they considered the order to protect the march to be "criminal."

Police sources refused to confirm or deny whether the three men are police officers.

March of Equality organizers believe a large show of support is the best way to prevent violence.

"In this case we think that the more participants, the safer the march will be," says Ruslana Panukhnyk, who is handling security for the event organizers. "Together we are strong. This is exactly what we learned on the Maidan," he adds, in a reference to the pro-Western unrest that ousted Ukraine's president in 2014.

Despite the threat of violence and the fact that he was caught up in the attack on the gay-pride event last year, Gubskiy is determined to march again on June 12.

"I know what I am getting into and what risk I am taking. And I know why," he told RFE/RL. "Of course, I am afraid, but I want to live in freedom. I want to live with dignity and have a quality of life that meets European standards. So I will march despite everything."

WATCH: A video experiment in which a gay couple strolled around Kyiv hand-in-hand to gauge homophobic sentiment went largely without incident until the pair was surrounded by a gang of young men who "pepper-sprayed" and attacked them in broad daylight.