Kyiv, June 12, 2016. Equality March 2016 in Kyiv became the largest LGBTI rights event in Ukrainian history. “It is the first, largest, most open, and peaceful equality march. […] We are still calculating the total number of participants, but the estimate is around 2 thousand people as of this moment, which is a huge step forward for us,” said Ruslana Panukhnyk, representative of the Department of Kyiv Pride March, at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. She went on to say that 80-300 people participated in the march in the previous years, “I would like to thank the national police, Kyiv City State Administration, members of diplomatic missions, our foreign colleagues, representatives of international organizations, Ukrainian advocacy groups, and everyone who supported us. We are making huge steps towards the ideal peaceful demonstration for human rights, including LGBTI rights,” said Panukhnyk.
The participants stated that the Equality March itself took place in an absolutely peaceful manner. “There was a single incident one and a half hours following the conclusion of the march. A young man was beaten; he is in hospital with our lawyers now,” informed Panukhnyk. Onlookers reported a seperate incident involving a police officer. The officer unabashfully mocked participants with homophobic jokes and slurs as they loaded buses to leave the city center. There was no indication whether or not the officer’s name was known to public officials, or if the officer would face disciplinary action.
Overall, the efforts of the police force were recieved extremely well by the public. “I would like to congratulate the town authorities who have put their full weight behind this action – the way how it is supposed to be in a mature democracy,” said MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, and EU parliamentary member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. “We are glad that the National Police showed a proper spirit. They were tolerant and provided proper security. […] We could not believe till the last moment that such police force will ensure the participants’ safety. The fact they were so responsible about it, gives a hope that organizing any mass event for human rights support properly would be possible. We are very grateful for it,” said Dmytro Mazurok, representative of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.
MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld further praised the event:
“What is the best outcome of today is not only the fact that today was a celebration of diversity and fundamental rights, but also that there is a very positive image of Kyiv – this is the way that city is supposed to present itself to the outside world: a city that is open, that is welcoming, which is embracing diversity, democracy, and fundamental rights.”
Giving comments on prudence of holding such events in the country in the crisis and the state of war, in ‘t Veld said that various problems are no reason to disregard human rights. “This goes right to the heart of the matter: if you are worried about peace and stability, if you are worried about good governance – all those things go together with democracy and protection of fundamental rights,” she emphasized.
Activists expressed hope that Ukraine’s society would eventually grow tolerant enough to do without unprecedented security measures during equality marches. Panukhnyk insisted that tougher punishments for hate crimes would help to prevent verbal and violent assaults by radical groups on Kyiv Pride March participants. Activists also stated that other regions of Ukraine are actively joining the pride movement; an equality march is due to take place in Odesa for the second time this year.