As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, LGBTQ Ukrainian people were among those joining anti-war protests that took place all over the world this weekend. Many still have family and friends in the besieged country and are anxious and afraid of the consequences if the Putin-led military assault succeeds, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
In 2013, Russia passed legislation that became known as the “gay propaganda” law, effectively clamping down on LGBTQ representation in the media. In 2020, over 30 people were arrested for staging demonstrations in support of feminist and LGBTQ activist Julia Tsvetkova, who was charged by police for spreading pornography on her Facebook page. Russia has been ranked as one of the worst places to be queer in Europe by ILGA-Europe, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people.
Though progress for LGBTQ people in Ukraine remains slow and incremental, there have been promising developments. Though equal marriage is still outlawed, Parliament passed legislation to ban discrimination in the workplace in 2015. In 2021, the annual pride parade – the Equality March – attracted 7,000 attendees and, unlike in its early years, was not disrupted by violent counterprotests or far-right thugs.
Bex Wade went down to the protest in London on Saturday to speak to LGBTQ Ukrainian people about their fears and concerns in the wake of the invasion.
Angel Wilson, 20, personal assistant
I am a trans woman, my mother and my father are from Ukraine. I feel very unstable and very uncomfortable right now because of the situation. My friends in the LGBTQI+ community in Ukraine are very stressed right now. They feel very scared.
I have a few friends in Kyiv and they really can’t live peacefully right now. They are afraid that one day they just cannot wake up. Yesterday my friend from Kyiv said she’s very afraid because it could be her last night. People are trying their best to survive right now.
Russia has very violent rules and politics about queer people. If Putin – I don’t want to say that it’s Russia, it’s all Putin – reaches people in Ukraine, am scared they too will suffer under worse violence, homophobia and transphobia.
Oleksandr Dmytrenko, 38, professional drag queen
What’s happening in Ukraine at the moment is just terrible. I have family in Kyiv – my dad is there and he’s very old. I was last in the Ukraine in 2013; I’m a refugee. I came to the UK asking for asylum, because I was openly gay in my country. I had to move here because I couldn’t work safely and I couldn’t go out safely. If you are openly gay, you get lots of pressure on you [in Ukraine].
Now, though, for those there it’s almost not about sexuality or gender. Right now, it’s about saving your [own] life. People are trying to move to the villages to hide from the rockets. I am prepared to host people here in London, probably three or four people. It’s a really bad situation from what I can tell.
Nat Urazmetova, 37, visual artist
Part of my family comes from Crimea, [which] was annexed and occupied by Russia. If the intention of Russia is to occupy Ukraine and make [it] some kind of secondary state or part of Russia, it’s going to be absolutely devastating and just terrible for the queer community in Ukraine. From what I saw [myself in Ukraine] and from people I talk to, the gay and queer community there now sounds [more] progressive in terms of some rights, with parties starting to be organised over the past couple of years and people not afraid to express their identity.
Of course, in comparison to Russia, it always felt like Ukraine is a step up in a way. But now, if war continues and Ukraine becomes part of Russia, then it’s going to all be terrible. Queer rights are going to be suppressed even more.
[LGBTQ people in Russia] can’t express themselves and the number of safe spaces are very limited. You cannot be open about who you are to your family or to your friends, because you always live in fear and suppress what’s part of you.
Maria Tsyupko, 18, student
As a queer Ukrainian, I’m scared in terms of not just being queer but the whole situation that’s happening. I feel very supported, though. Everybody is messaging me and just letting me know that they’re offering me their help no matter what, so I feel very proud and safe being here [in the UK] – but I am also very ashamed that I can’t be in Ukraine and help.
I have spoken to my queer friends over there. They are safe at the moment, but of course if Russia were to advance, there would be a massive amount of homophobia towards people. Currently Ukraine – especially Kyiv – is quite progressive and I would say relatively tolerant, but the fear is Russia and their [anti-LGBTQ] mentality affecting all of us in Ukraine.