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Kiev LGBTQ+ Pride rave 14
Photography Lesha Berezovskiy (@lewa_kartowa)

Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ youth rave for their rights outside the president’s office

In Kiev, around 100 people danced for six hours in protest against LGBTQ+ hate crimes and the country’s lack of anti-discrimination policies

“Now is the time to declare ourselves loudly,” says 25-year-old Misha from Kiev, “and to do it in front of the main rights guarantor’s office is the best way to do it.”

On Friday (July 30), Misha was among approximately 100 people who joined Kiev’s LGBTQ+ Pride rave – dubbed Reyvakh Pride – which saw a crowd wearing balaclavas, draped in rainbow flags, and carrying signs that read, ‘We dance together. We fight together’, party for six hours outside Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s window.

Organised by the newly-established UkrainePride, the event was held in protest against LGBTQ+ hate crimes in Ukraine, as well the country’s lack of anti-discrimination policies. Party organisers called for reforms to the police, prosecutor’s office, and judiciary, immediate investigations into attacks on LGBTQ+ people, as well as feminist events, activists, and organisations, an end to illegal raids on the techno scene in Kiev, and the creation of safe conditions for the development of Ukraine’s electronic scene.

Despite continued attacks by members of far-right group Tradition and Order – who attempted to break up the rave by throwing bottles at attendees and hosting their own counter-protest nearby – DJs spun techno tracks from day to night, while a joyous crowd danced and took turns performing on stage.

“Every Pride or event in support of LGBTQ+ people today is a preventative way to not become a victim of beating or domestic discrimination tomorrow,” continues Misha. “But only one Pride in June isn’t enough anymore. As a member of the queer community, I have a big chance of getting negative (comments, looks, or actions) everyday on the streets. Events like Reyvakh Pride form not just visibility, but a sense of presence.”

Friday’s event was flanked by a heavy police presence, with PinkNews reporting that officers deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to protect partygoers from the white supremacist-linked counter protesters – who are, sadly, a regular feature at Ukraine’s annual Pride event.

Although France24 reports that many Pride attendees felt the police did “nothing about the violence”, 31-year-old Anastasia, who grew up in Russia but now lives in Kiev, tells Dazed: “It was truly shocking and mind-blowing that the police were there to protect us.”

She continues: “Protesting and speaking up in Russia is dangerous, as the police will randomly arrest and beat people up for no reason. None of that is true in Kiev. To me, it feels so much safer here. I really enjoyed the opportunity to come to the rave and dance for my rights as a queer person.”

While Ukraine may not be as overtly anti-LGBTQ+ as Russia, Atlantic Council alleges that a bill proposed by Zelensky’s party in July – which calls for fines to be imposed on those who disseminate “homosexual propaganda” – is almost a literal translation of a piece of Russian legislation.

Despite Zelensky’s progressive presidential campaign – which wooed younger voters and resulted in his victory in May 2019 – the former comedian (and youngest Ukranian president ever) appears to be stagnating and even curtailing rights for the LGBTQ+ community, as opposed to working to improve them.

“The fact that a rave parade took place in Ukraine is a great achievement, since it is impossible in any other country in our region” – Nastia, 34

In October 2019, Zelensky expressed support for LGBTQ+ Ukranians, telling a homophobic heckler at a press conference: “We all live together in an open society where each one can choose the language they want to speak, their ethnicity, and (sexual) orientation. Leave those people be, for God’s sake!”

However, in the almost two years since his election, as well as proposing an anti-“homosexual propaganda” bill, Zelensky’s party has established a parliamentary group to push back against calls for greater LGBTQ+ rights, including opposing same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights, and has not made any real advancements when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.

34-year-old Kiev-based Nastia, who attended Friday’s rave, believes the event marks a milestone for LGBTQ+ rights in the country. “The struggle for equality in Ukraine is a fairly new phenomenon,” she tells Dazed. “It’s difficult for a society in a post-Soviet country with fairly well-established conservative traditions to accept and understand the truth of LGBTQ+.”

“The fact that a rave parade took place in Ukraine is a great achievement, since it is impossible in any other country in our region,” explains Nastia. “This is a very necessary and important stage in the development of our country. I hope Ukraine will continue to be the leader of transformations in society in our part of the world.”

Misha adds: “I understand that one event won’t change the horrible homophobia (in our country), but Reyvakh Pride showed another way of communicating about this topic. Organisers bravely defended their position; they united the queer community and electronic music, since both of these communities are being harassed by the police.”

Most importantly, Misha concludes, “Reyvakh Pride was amazing because of the people I saw around”. “The next one will definitely be bigger. See you there!”