Kyiv, 20 May. It’s already hot in the city and despite a fresh wind, Summer looks well underway. A lot of white stuff falling off from the trees. Flavors of pistil make out a heady electricity all over the place. And I am sick. Probably because of this bloody pistil. Or too much computer. Or, God forbid, the lovely yet chilly sunrise I caught in Donetsk a few days ago. Anyway. Heavy blue jeans, warm jacket and scarf on, it’s time to sweat like crazy and stand up for some rights. Today is to be held the first “March of the Pride” ever in Ukraine, and these guys do need some support. No time to lay down dying in bed.
At 1.30 pm, I join some ten people at the “Universytet” metro station. Mostly journalists and, strangely enough, mostly Dutch. Olena Semenova, the press officer of the Pride organizing committee, is dressed as a tourist guide and explains we all shall behave like tourists not to draw too much attention. The committee has been working on a security protocol for months, inspired from its Baltic pairs. Apart from journalists, something like a hundred marchers are scattered in small groups across the city and gather up at the entrances of metro stations. Demonstrators have been scanned and checked upon registration. City authorities and police forces have been consulted with and assured their full assistance. At one point, a signal has to come by phone and one group after another will head to a secret location and actually hold the Pride. Some international guests have come a long way as a sign of support. Namely Volker Beck, the head of the parliamentary group of “Bündnis 90/Die Grünen” at the German Bundestag, and Marije Cornelissen, Green member of the European Parliament (and Dutch too). Somehow, it looks like everything may go well.
Yet, the initiative makes no consensus. Not in the Ukrainian social, political and media spheres. Not even within the LGBT community. Many fear the Ukrainian society and authorities are not ready for such an open expression of otherness. Previous attempts have failed to come through and this Pride is the result of endless talks and careful negotiations. The organizer Stas Mischenko defends his position: “You know, the LGBT leaders who do not support the Pride are not against us either. As far as we are concerned, we have been trying to do it in the evolutionary way. To educate people, to hold some closed events. As you can see, it has not worked very well and the level of homophobia has worsened recently. So we decided to go for more public events. This year is unique because of the upcoming Euro 2012, so Europe has its attention fixed on Ukraine. Some people say that the Ukrainian society is not ready for a Pride. But you know, it won’t be ready even in 10, 20 years. But we live now, this is our life, and we want to change it now.”
Provided the change is physically doable. The first announcement comes quick. Police is standing on the gathering spot, but unidentified cars are also parked nearby. A few minutes later, it’s about couple hundred aggressive-looking “Cossacks”. Shortly after, it’s about half a thousand demonstrators, made of Cossacks, football hooligans and members of religious organizations. Nervousness. Anxiety. Cigarets. Final estimates will go up to a thousand in total. “I know that someone leaked information to these guys. I actually suspect some members of the police forces of doing that, you know. We can never be sure whether the police is there to protect us or just to watch and smile”, Olena Semenova explains. For the group of journalists, the March of the Pride turns into a tour of the nearby botanical garden. Until the final announcement comes at about 3pm: the Pride is called off. A mere press conference will be held on the left bank of the Dnipro.
A few of us catch a taxi to go there: we want to drive by the “Dnipro” metro station, that is the place where the March was supposed to start from, and effectively catch a glimpse of these so-called “fascists hordes”. At about 3.30pm, we get to discover a mixed crowd of paramilitaries, sport-looking young men and old religious “ladies”. At that point, not all of them are left on the spot. Apparently, some groups dispersed and went to the city looking for potential LGBT marchers. On the other side of the station, about a hundred, a hundred fifty policemen are getting some sun tan. They are there, and it’s already something. Yet it is obvious they are not willing to ensure a full protection of the event. Shields, fences or prison truck are nowhere to be seen. Why bother? After all, today is not about carrying a political opponent to prison.
The taxi drives us to “Darnitsa” metro station. There, it’s all about waiting and buying McDonald’s ice creams. 30, 40 minutes. Someone must have forgotten about us. Not exactly. As we hear afterward, an aborted open-air press communique has ended up in a handful young guys beating up representatives of the committee. Kicks in the back, masks, tear gas: the very rules of a proud and loyal street fight.
Police intervenes afterward and catches a few of the aggressors. Two persons end up in the hospital. Journalists are called back to the right bank, where another press briefing is to be held.
We arrive by the opera house at 4.30pm. This time, nothing comes disturbing the quiet terrace of the “Coffee House”. Despite an obvious frustration, the organizers manage to show some enthusiasm. For Taras Karasiychuk, the head of the committee, this day is even a kind of a victory: “We have worked a lot to organize this Pride. Although it’s called off, I am glad that everyone is safe and healthy, despite the two victims [they suffered only minor injuries, see pictures]. With this event, we denounce the massive problem of homophobia that exists in Ukraine. We believe that thanks to the Pride, the level of understanding of LGBT issues will rise up in the country. Plus, we have been extremely delighted to see that city authorities were taking us seriously and helped us organizing the March”. Sure. But then what about apparent unwillingness of the police to secure the whereabouts of the Pride? “It’s mostly about difficulties of communication between us and dfferent bodies of security involved”. Ok. Then it’s not so bad I guess. I somehow let myself thinking that no one really expected the Pride to take place. But the most important thing was to try.
Stressful day. And yet, it is never to early to plan next actions. “For sure, we will organize a Pride next year”, Olena Semenova says. “Better organized, and in cooperation with other cities, such as Mikolaiv and Odessa. This event was a good lesson for us of what to do and what not to do. We will do it again”.
I will be looking forward to that. For now, it is time to rush back home, grab painkillers, cognac and some sleep. Before catching a new sunrise and write a personal account of what was, after all, a historical day in Ukraine.
PS: Pictures Copyright: Chris Collison