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LGBT soldiers in Ukraine rally for legal rights

LGBT Ukrainian service personnel rallied in Kyiv calling for legal reforms to allow people in same-sex partnerships to take medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war with Russia that extended across Ukraine more than two years ago (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
LGBT Ukrainian service personnel rallied in Kyiv calling for legal reforms to allow people in same-sex partnerships to take medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war with Russia that extended across Ukraine more than two years ago (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Several hundred LGBT Ukrainian military personnel and their supporters marched in central Kyiv on Sunday to demand more rights and highlight their service to their country in its war with Russia.

The service members – many wearing rainbow and unicorn patches on their uniforms – called on the government to grant them official partnership rights.

They described the event as a Pride march but it did not have the celebratory atmosphere of peacetime events and took place in the rain and under a heavy police guard amid threats from counter-protesters.

Russia Ukraine War Pride Parade
The protesters want people in same-sex partnerships to be able to make medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war with Russia (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The role of LGBT members in the military has been credited with shifting public attitudes toward same-sex partnerships in the socially conservative country.

“We are ordinary people who are fighting on an equal footing with everyone else, but deprived of the rights that other people have,” Dmitriy Pavlov, an army soldier who used a cane to walk, told the Associated Press.

Campaigners are seeking legal reforms to allow people in same-sex partnerships to take medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war that extended across Ukraine more than two years ago.

They argue that an improvement in gay rights would create a further distinction between Ukraine and Russia, where LGBT rights are severely restricted.

Russia Ukraine War Pride Parade
Activist soldiers hold portraits of LGBT Ukrainian servicemen, who are fighting on the front line, with a poster reading ‘We are their voices’ (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Staff from the US Embassy and several European embassies attended the Pride rally.

Organisers had faced difficulties in organising the event. City authorities turned down a petition to allow it to be held at a metro station, and it was condemned by one of the main branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“This action is part of a left-wing radical political movement and is aimed at imposing a political ideology, and also aimed at destroying the institution of the family and weakening Ukrainian society in the conditions of war and repelling Russian aggression,” the church said in a statement.

Police set up cordons in central Kyiv to keep the marchers away from a counter-demonstration, ushering protesters into a central metro station at the end of the event.

Russia Ukraine War Pride Parade
A Ukrainian officer and LGBT activist at the Pride march in Kyiv (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Protesters in the counter-demonstration, some wearing face masks and carrying anti-gay signs, marched to a memorial for fallen soldiers in the centre of the city.

An injured soldier, in Kyiv for physical therapy, said he attended the counter-rally out of concern that divisive societal issues should not be raised during the war.

“I came because I think it’s not the right time for LGBT (activism),” said the soldier, who asked to be identified by his call sign “Archy”.

“We need to strengthen our country.”

Both those on the LGBT rally and the counter-protest took the opportunity to demand that foreign countries come to Ukraine’s aid in its war with Russia, chanting “Arm Ukraine now!”