LGBT+ Ukrainians fight for 'the freedom to be free' as the global community offers support

Some of the faces of the LGBT+ resistance. Credit: Kyiv Pride/Instagram

Words by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

Ukrainians resisting the Russian invasion are fighting for their "freedom to be free", none more so than LGBT+ people.

ITV News has spoken to Kyiv Pride and Rebel Queers (an activist group founded in Kyiv) about how the war has impacted LGBT+ Ukrainians.

Cay, from Rebel Queers, described how the group went from carrying out acts of defiance (graffitiing the capital and daubing buildings with the LGBT+ flag) to "fighting for our freedom and the freedom of other queer people" against Russia.

"Russia’s fascist regime would kill queer people, there would be repressions, so of course we’re going to fight for our freedom and the freedom of other queer people as well," they said.

"Protecting their own rights is one of the things motivating queer people to fight, but it’s more complex because it’s our home and if someone comes to your home and tries to kill you of course you’re going to fight and protect yourself."

"How can Putin even think he can invade Ukraine and it would be easy and he would win? Ukrainians are different, we’re going to fight for our freedom and we’re not going to let some f****** fascist come and rule."

Though same-sex relationships in Russia are legal, the country has erased LGBT+ rights and offers no protections against discrimination. A federal law bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to under-18s (akin to the UK's own Section 28 which was repealed in 2003).

The fight of LGBT+ Ukrainians is taking many forms.

Some people stayed and took up arms or volunteered as medical support to the Ukrainian army, others found safety elsewhere in Europe and from there have organised fundraising, emergency supplies, and offered support for refugees.

Lenny Emson, director of Kyiv Pride, said: "In the past 29 days, we have reworked everything that we were doing and absolutely changed what we do.

"We’re protecting our way of life, our freedom to be free."

Lenny, who uses she/he pronouns, described how the group has helped provide the community with water, food, a safe relocation.

"We run a huge database of LGBT households in Europe who can host LGBT Ukrainian refugees," she/he said.

"We help also help the community who joined the military - supplies, uniform, whatever they need. We work on supporting our people in the forces."

She/he described how the global LGBT+ community have been supporting Ukraine: "We’ve had tonnes of calls, emails, messages. People are offering their homes, offering their food, offering to pick up refugees and to take care of them.

"We feel that the community is united, despite the borders and the situation, we are together and as LGBTQIA people we help each other."

Kyiv Pride march in September 2021

"I never thought we would be in this situation," Lenny said, reflecting one month into the invasion.

Like so many of the Ukrainian people ITV News has spoken to since February 24, she/he remains defiant that Russia will not succeed. Each June, Kyiv Pride organises an equality march through the capital and this year, Lenny says, will be no different.

"This year the march of equality will turn 10 years and we hope to celebrate it along with a victory - when the Russians will be kicked out of Ukraine finally."

Kyiv Pride has compiled a list of resources for how you can help and donate to help Ukrainian LGBT+ people.

Content note, the word 'queer' has been reclaimed by many in the LGBT+ community who use it as a term to describe gender and/or sexual identity.

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