Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

World

Eurovision shines spotlight on LGBT struggle in Ukraine

-

Ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest final in Kiev, an extravaganza embraced by the LGBT community, Ukraine's "Celebrate Diversity" motto sounds more like wishful thinking than a fact of life.

Weighed down by a restrictive Soviet heritage but filled with lofty European aspirations, the crisis-torn east European country hopes to use the global spotlight to showcase its tolerance of values long-cherished in the West.

Yet beneath the liberal facade put on by the city, which wants fans at Saturday's final to celebrate "our unique differences," resentment and anger has brewed among thuggish far-right groups and powerful clerics who treat homosexuals with disdain.

And while the Kyiv Pride LGBT rights group distributes maps of gay-friendly places tucked in the shadow of Orthodox churches, beatings of homosexuals are routine and even the prime minister shudders at the thought of legalising same-sex marriage.

"God forbid!" Volodymyr Groysman exclaimed in November 2015. "We will never support this."

- World's largest rainbow -

Members of LGBT community shout slogans and carry banners as they march during a 2016 gay pride para...
Members of LGBT community shout slogans and carry banners as they march during a 2016 gay pride parade in Kiev
SERGEI SUPINSKY, AFP

The most vivid display of Kiev's embrace of diversity involved plastering a giant arch in the heart of the city that symbolised the Soviet-era bond between Ukraine and Russia with the rainbow colours of the LGBT flag.

Ukraine has wanted to distinguish itself starkly from it arch-foe Russia, its eastern neighbour that has drawn global condemnation over crackdowns against the LGBT community.

Soaring 35 metres (115 feet) above the Dnipro River, Kiev said the arch would become the world's largest artificial rainbow.

Ultranationalist group Right Sektor has actively resisted the initiative.

The arch is now a jarring sight: part rainbow, part shiny grey metal, the city halted work on the project when confronted by hostile Right Sektor activists waving their ominous red and black banners.

"Kiev is not the European capital of gays," Right Sektor spokesman Artem Skoropadskiy told AFP.

The Eurovision Song Contest promotes tolerance and Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst become...
The Eurovision Song Contest promotes tolerance and Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst become a global ambassador for gay rights after winning the competition in 2014
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/File

Father Feodosiy of the dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church warned that Kiev's rainbow arch could jeopardise the country's entire social value system.

"There will be inevitable consequences for the entire nation if this ideology and these sins are spread everywhere with the help of such an enormous symbol," he told AFP.

But Ukrainians like Zoryan Kis, a gay LGBT activist, called the nearly-completed rainbow arch a "perfect metaphor of 'celebrating diversity' in Ukraine".

- Homosexuals 'should not exist' -

"It basically shows that diversity is not fully achieved in Ukraine, but that we are almost there," the 34-year-old said on an optimistic note.

International rights groups have praised Ukraine for having recently introduced legislation that offers the LGBT community more protection.

Ukraine banned sexual discrimination in employment in 2015 after having been pressured by the European Union, which it has been trying to join.

Ukrainian workers decorate the
Ukrainian workers decorate the "Arch of friendship" monument in Kiev, during preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest that will be held from May 9-13
Sergei SUPINSKY, AFP

But Human Rights Watch noted in 2017 that "anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among high-level government officials and the public" in Ukraine.

Despite extra security measures taken ahead of the contest, Ukraine's social media world was shaken by the violent beating of a lesbian woman earlier this month.

Kiev resident Gala Korniyenko, 40, and her girlfriend Nataliya went fishing in the countryside and ran into a group of rowdy men who were having an alcohol-fuelled party.

When one of them learned that Nataliya was a lesbian, he pushed her to the ground and began kicking her as the others watched.

"He was screaming that he'll kill her and bury her and people like her should not exist," Korniyenko told AFP.

Nataliya suffered a concussion, but Korniyenko said there were still signs that the times were changing because the attack received broad attention and that the LGBT community was no longer afraid of speaking out.

"Two years ago we would have swallowed it," Korniyenko said.

Nevertheless, activist Kis urged gay and lesbian couples who come to Kiev for the 42-nation song contest to keep their displays of affection private.

"Ninety-five percent of the people would react normally, but there is always a risk that you will come across a crazy far-right teenager," Kis cautioned.

Ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest final in Kiev, an extravaganza embraced by the LGBT community, Ukraine’s “Celebrate Diversity” motto sounds more like wishful thinking than a fact of life.

Weighed down by a restrictive Soviet heritage but filled with lofty European aspirations, the crisis-torn east European country hopes to use the global spotlight to showcase its tolerance of values long-cherished in the West.

Yet beneath the liberal facade put on by the city, which wants fans at Saturday’s final to celebrate “our unique differences,” resentment and anger has brewed among thuggish far-right groups and powerful clerics who treat homosexuals with disdain.

And while the Kyiv Pride LGBT rights group distributes maps of gay-friendly places tucked in the shadow of Orthodox churches, beatings of homosexuals are routine and even the prime minister shudders at the thought of legalising same-sex marriage.

“God forbid!” Volodymyr Groysman exclaimed in November 2015. “We will never support this.”

– World’s largest rainbow –

Members of LGBT community shout slogans and carry banners as they march during a 2016 gay pride para...

Members of LGBT community shout slogans and carry banners as they march during a 2016 gay pride parade in Kiev
SERGEI SUPINSKY, AFP

The most vivid display of Kiev’s embrace of diversity involved plastering a giant arch in the heart of the city that symbolised the Soviet-era bond between Ukraine and Russia with the rainbow colours of the LGBT flag.

Ukraine has wanted to distinguish itself starkly from it arch-foe Russia, its eastern neighbour that has drawn global condemnation over crackdowns against the LGBT community.

Soaring 35 metres (115 feet) above the Dnipro River, Kiev said the arch would become the world’s largest artificial rainbow.

Ultranationalist group Right Sektor has actively resisted the initiative.

The arch is now a jarring sight: part rainbow, part shiny grey metal, the city halted work on the project when confronted by hostile Right Sektor activists waving their ominous red and black banners.

“Kiev is not the European capital of gays,” Right Sektor spokesman Artem Skoropadskiy told AFP.

The Eurovision Song Contest promotes tolerance and Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst become...

The Eurovision Song Contest promotes tolerance and Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst become a global ambassador for gay rights after winning the competition in 2014
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/File

Father Feodosiy of the dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church warned that Kiev’s rainbow arch could jeopardise the country’s entire social value system.

“There will be inevitable consequences for the entire nation if this ideology and these sins are spread everywhere with the help of such an enormous symbol,” he told AFP.

But Ukrainians like Zoryan Kis, a gay LGBT activist, called the nearly-completed rainbow arch a “perfect metaphor of ‘celebrating diversity’ in Ukraine”.

– Homosexuals ‘should not exist’ –

“It basically shows that diversity is not fully achieved in Ukraine, but that we are almost there,” the 34-year-old said on an optimistic note.

International rights groups have praised Ukraine for having recently introduced legislation that offers the LGBT community more protection.

Ukraine banned sexual discrimination in employment in 2015 after having been pressured by the European Union, which it has been trying to join.

Ukrainian workers decorate the

Ukrainian workers decorate the “Arch of friendship” monument in Kiev, during preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest that will be held from May 9-13
Sergei SUPINSKY, AFP

But Human Rights Watch noted in 2017 that “anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among high-level government officials and the public” in Ukraine.

Despite extra security measures taken ahead of the contest, Ukraine’s social media world was shaken by the violent beating of a lesbian woman earlier this month.

Kiev resident Gala Korniyenko, 40, and her girlfriend Nataliya went fishing in the countryside and ran into a group of rowdy men who were having an alcohol-fuelled party.

When one of them learned that Nataliya was a lesbian, he pushed her to the ground and began kicking her as the others watched.

“He was screaming that he’ll kill her and bury her and people like her should not exist,” Korniyenko told AFP.

Nataliya suffered a concussion, but Korniyenko said there were still signs that the times were changing because the attack received broad attention and that the LGBT community was no longer afraid of speaking out.

“Two years ago we would have swallowed it,” Korniyenko said.

Nevertheless, activist Kis urged gay and lesbian couples who come to Kiev for the 42-nation song contest to keep their displays of affection private.

“Ninety-five percent of the people would react normally, but there is always a risk that you will come across a crazy far-right teenager,” Kis cautioned.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

You may also like:

World

Russia vowed its assault on Ukraine would continue until Kyiv surrenders, as world leaders warned that Moscow would pay for its aggression.

World

A major UN conference on how to restore the faltering health of global oceans kicked off in Lisbon this week with a flurry of...

World

The role of battlefield drones in Ukraine is diminishing - Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSARDidier LAURASThe Ukrainian army’s astute use of drones has been a...

World

Sergio Tornaghi, 64, is wanted for his involvement in assassinations carried out by the Red Brigades.