The biggest pride march ever held in Ukraine took place on Sunday, drawing out a crowd of 8,000 people. Attendees had further cause to celebrate, as the joyful march took place without violence or major confrontation, unlike previous years.
The March for Equality, the official name of the annual LGBTQ Pride event, took place in the country’s capital city, Kiev. Organizers said that this year’s march saw a significant growth in participants — who carried banners with phrases like “Diversity is beautiful,” “Human rights = happy country,” and “No violence — yes rights” — compared to last year’s count of 5,000 attendees.
“Our desire is to convey to a majority of people that LGBT is normality,” Eduard, a 17-year-old tattoo artist, told Reuters. “I am taking part for the fifth time. Ukraine is making significant progress compared to previous years, security and organization are much better."
The LGBTQ community in Ukraine has been under attack for much of recent history. Kiev police arrested 56 nationalists before last year’s march over plans to disrupt the march, and in 2015, violent clashes ensued at the march between attendees and protesters.
LGBTQ rights have been more supported by the government since a change in leadership in 2014, but societal attitudes have largely remained hostile, and same-sex marriages are still not recognized as legal unions. According to a recently-updated Pew Research report, only 9% of Ukranian said they are in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. And 47% of Ukranians continue to support the limitation of LGBTQ rights, with 37.5% opposing restrictions and 15% indifferent to the issue, a 2018 Democratic Initiatives survey found.
However, Sunday’s march may signal a turning tide in the country, likely due to its new president. Since taking office last month, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has voiced his stance in favor of freedom and equality for all, and has been working to promote tolerance nationwide.
Marchers were also joined this year by local politicians and foreign diplomats, like British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough, who shared a photo of herself and other ambassadors participating in the march on social media.
“We stand with all Ukrainians striving for equality and non-discrimination,” wrote William B. Taylor, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Ukraine.
Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. William B. Taylor: “I wish all #KyivPride March participants a safe, enjoyable, and rewarding day. We stand with all Ukrainians striving for equality and non-discrimination.”— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) June 23, 2019
Police worked to keep march participants and anti-LGBTQ protesters separated for the marchers' protection, under instruction from the president’s office.
“Ukraine’s Constitution states that citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms,” read a message posted on Zelenskiy's office’s Facebook page on Sunday.
Still, nine people were suspected of planning to carry out disruptive acts during the march this year. They were detained by police the day before the event, and the march went forward without any outbreaks of violence.
“We are satisfied with the cooperation with the police. There were some small incidents, but no injuries,” Ruslana Panukhnyk, one of the event’s organizers, said.
“The most important [thing] for us is human rights.”