A Ukrainian industrial city made history this week by holding its first-ever LGBTQ Pride event, following a brutal attack on a parade organizer.
On Sunday an estimated 40 people attended the “March for Equality” in Kryvyi Rih, a populous town known as a hub for mining and chemical processing. A seven hour drive from the capital of Kiev, the city’s LGBTQ community has faced frequent attacks in the past. In September 2015, the community group Gay Alliance Ukraine was targeted by masked assailants who threw fireworks into their building during a meeting.
After LGBTQ leaders announced the city’s inaugural Pride parade earlier this year, organizing committee chairman Borys Zolotchenko was hospitalized after being beaten by an angry mob. Gay Alliance Ukraine posted photos on social media of Zolotchenko’s bloodied face.
Following the assault, populist lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk warned that “perverts” were planning to organize in the city. In a Facebook post, he urged Kryvyi Rih residents to beat them “as much as possible.”
But advocates claimed they would not be deterred by threats of further violence, as the Kyiv Post initially reported.
“I’m becoming more and more convinced that the March of Equality needs to be organized,” Zolotchenko claimed in a statement released by Gay Alliance Ukraine. “We must show the authorities and society that safety and equality must be accessible to all Ukrainian citizens.”
Organizers took extreme precautions to ensure the safety of participants during the June 22 parade.
Community groups did not publicize the location of “March for Equality” until hours before the event was scheduled to begin. A bus shuttled participants to Sicheslavska Street in the city center for a demonstration that spanned just 600 feet — and then offered them safe transport following the parade.
Meanwhile, the police presence at the event far outnumbered the presence of LGBTQ activists.
It looks as if the abundance of caution paid off. Even despite death threats against participants leading up to the parade, there wasn’t a single incidence of violence recorded against marchers, who carried banners like “Different People — Equal Rights” and “Refuse to Be Afraid!”
Right-wing groups did counterprotest, but unlike a June attack on Kiev Pride that resulted in the arrest of 57 people, the demonstration was held far from Sunday’s procession.
Beginning on Saturday, religious conservatives held a prayer circle called “Prayer Guard: For the Family, For the holiness of Our People, For Protecting the Child’s Spiritual World,” although it’s unclear how many were in attendance.
Attacks on Pride parades have become de rigueur after Ukraine’s pro-Western government began allowing LGBTQ events when it came to power in 2014.
An early attempt to organize a Pride march in Kiev was extinguished after organizers were drenched in pepper spray, kicked in the head, and curb stomped. One organizer, Taras Karasiychuk, suffered a fractured jaw and a severe concussion after being assaulted by a mob outside his home in 2012 — who hurled anti-LGBTQ insults at Karasiychuk as they beat him.
Zolotchenko celebrated groundbreaking progress for LGBTQ Ukrainians in the face of continued threats to their existence in the post-Soviet nation.
“Today a historic event has occurred,” Zolotchenko claimed in a statement posted on Gay Alliance Ukraine’s website. “The LGBTQ community is not limited to singers, dancers, and musicians. We are also workers, teachers, doctors, soldiers and ordinary residents of this city.”
“We are people and today we are loudly saying that we exist, we are here, and were are tired of being afraid,” he continued.
Although local authorities are allegedly investigating the attack on Zolotchenko, it’s unlikely that the case will result in justice for the local LGBTQ community. According to the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, police failed to respond to the incident even after witnesses reported it to local law enforcement.