Founded by Ukraine’s first openly gay military veteran, Viktor Pylypenko, LGBT Military has fought to improve the military’s treatment of and support for queer people. But courageous activists such as Pylypenko have also helped drive a transformation in social attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine in recent years. Having fought for the country against Russia-backed separatists in the East commands respect from wider society and has helped overturned the far-right narrative that gay Ukrainians are not patriots.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has struggled to develop its own, distinct modern identity. But the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 was perhaps the point when Ukrainian society permanently turned its back on being a failing country under the heel of Russia. Ukrainians decisively rejected the corrupt, reactionary and authoritarian path Putin has chosen for Russia and foisted on Ukraine by using friendly oligarchs to subvert the political process. During months of struggle in the depths of winter, over a hundred people—remembered as the Heavenly Hundred—were killed and injured in a fight for democracy, tolerance and human rights.
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With the election of Jewish comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky as president in 2019, Ukrainian voters resoundingly affirmed their support for the progressive ideals of the Euromaidan revolution. During his first major press conference in October 2019, Zelensky marked a decisive shift from his predecessors when he said all Ukrainians could freely choose their language, religion and sexual orientation: “Leave those people [the LGBTQIA+ community] alone, for God’s sake,” he said.
Today, equality of gender and sexual orientation is a key part of what it means to be Ukrainian and a fundamental way to signal rejection of Putin’s values.
By 2021, Kyiv’s Equality March (aka Pride) had grown to around 7,000 attendees, while counter-protests dwindled to just a few hundred. In July 2021, UKRAINEPRIDE even organized Reyvakh Pride: a day rave outside the presidential palace, which served to cement Kyiv’s techno and queer scenes together.
“Putin simply didn’t like the Revolution of Dignity, when we chose European democratic, humanistic values over a Russian totalitarian nightmare,” Andrii says. “Europe and all of the western world should be aware that Ukraine is fighting for them. If we fall, they fall. That is why solidarity is important.”