KyivPride: Britney, Puppys, Peace

19.09.2021 | cb — No comments

by Conrad Breyer

As we walk to the German Embassy, we can already hear the loudspeaker announcements. The slogans echo throughout the city, accompanied by music. “Is it starting already?”, I ask Stas. “Have our friends from Tradition and Order arrived yet?” But then we realize: that’s Britney singing. “Nationalist don’t listen to Britney Spears,” says Stas laughing. “You can relax.”

Who could have guessed that Pride in Kyiv would one day feel almost like in Munich? At least, as far as the music is concerned. We run to the meeting point. In front of the embassy we meet employees of the mission, who want to walk with us today. The embassy has already financed several events during Pride Month, and they also provided the sound system for the march. There is a rainbow flag hanging out of a window. It is barely visible, but better than nothing after all! A quick group photo, then we’re off.

Munich Kyiv Queer and the German Embassy walk in front. Photo by Conrad Breyer

Police have designated two entrances for Pride; one is directly in front of the embassy. Women are screened on one side, men on the other as they go in. There are no gender categories in between when it comes to authorities. We open our backpacks; I have to unfold our banner, then I’m allowed to go through.

Rebel, love, don’t give up your rights

Hundreds of people are already lined up outside the National Opera House. Music surrounds us. Rainbow flags are everywhere, flags of local LGBTIQ* organizations and drag queens are dancing on a truck. The atmosphere is great. The youth of the country has gathered here. They are singing, shouting slogans like “Human rights above all” or “Rebel, love, don’t give up your rights”. We find our position behind Amnesty International and some puppies. Puppies! I’ve never seen KyivPride so diverse; the fetish community has barely ventured onto the streets so far.

Right on time at eleven we start walking. I don’t see any police. Earlier, the security forces have formed long queues to the right and left of the demonstrators. People practically walked through a line of policemen. Now the area itself is widely fenced, police are only controlling the entrances, the Taras Shevchenko Park, around which we will walk, and the entrance to the subway.

It’s drizzling, but still more than 7000 people gathered in the center of the city this year. Last time, in 2019, there were over 8000, but we are still in a pandemic. Spectators there are none as every year. Here and there we observe how someone looks out of the window, probably to find out who is making such a noise. Someone waves, we wave back. Others prefer to close their window quickly.

No desire to protest

We don’t talk much. The music from the car behind us is way too loud. I enjoy the atmosphere and experience the march with all my senses. It is a silent protest that’s comforting. It was right to come here, even if our delegation is so small this time with Stas and me, because we couldn’t get a representative of the city to come to Kyiv with us at such short notice. The pandemic simply did not allow for long-term planning.

“Education is the best remedy against homophobia,” the poster says. Photo: Conrad Breyer

All week long I didn’t really feel like marching. I was much more excited about seeing again the people we’ve worked with for years and whom we’ve now met for such a long time. Planning projects together is so much fun and so much easier. Running with the march, on the other hand, is quite irritating. Once you get involved, you’re trapped, you have to walk along until the end. Only then does the subway transport you out of the city, along with thousands of other activists. Which can take time. But more about that in a moment.

We are doing this now, we are fighting side by side with our friends for human rights in Ukraine. They need this protection from abroad to put pressure on the authorities. It is uplifting and moving at the same time to walk the streets. Occasionally we are photographed, once also interviewed – human rights are for everyone and make the whole country freer, I say.

God with us? Counter-protests remain peaceful

And what about the opponents? When we started walking, Ruslan Kukhartchuk passed by, notorious founder of the movement “Love against homosexualism”. He filmed us, we gave him the finger, and he took off. On the street corner in front of us, there’s a guy with a sign that says, “God, the Ukrainian Constitution and human nature are against LGBT in the country.” Much further back, in front of the university, a whole group of nationalists is protesting. It is well shielded from our protest, we don’t get much to see of them. There will be no violence against the participants on this day, not even after the Pride, as we learn later from the social media. This is also new at KyivPride.

Protestor against KyivPride. Photo by Conrad Breyer

After a small hour, the march is over. “How, that’s it already?” asks an employee of the German Embassy. “Wll, in 2013 it took only 15 minutes”, I say and laugh. We take a few more photos, then we are asked to pack our banners and head towards the metro, where hundreds are already lining up.

Drag Queens at KyivPride. Photo: Conrad Breyer

This is the most unpleasant moment of the whole Pride. I think, it might even be the most dangerous. If panic breaks out here, people will die. But Ukrainians remain patient, continue to chant their slogans and even start to sing. “Chervona Ruta” – this Ukrainian song, that our choir people in Munich have sung so often for the community in Kyiv, Odesa and Munich. It is moving how they all patiently stand there, sing, lie in each other’s arms. Yes, it’s funny, but the metro is a safe space today. There are policemen everywhere, nothing can happen here.

Furtive kisses in the subway

We wait half an hour for a train to come. We are packed in until no one can breathe anymore. Social distance in pandemic times? No chance. Patiently we endure our fate, again: police everywhere, safe space, hugs, but total silence. Everyone just wants to get out of the city.

Puppies at Pride – a first. Photo: Conrad Breyer

When we arrive in Obolon, the place where a policeman almost bled to death in 2015 when nationalists attacked KyivPride with their fire-crackers, we quickly get out. At that time, in 2015, scenes like from a civil war were taking place here. There was smoke, fights; the hunt for LGBTIQ* was opened. A stream of people pours into the neighborhood now too, but everything remains calm. Most of them head for the big shopping mall, where they spread out in the cafés and restaurants. We follow their example and wait until the situation calms down.

Closing rally at Leo Tolstoy Square. Photo: Conrad Breyer

But there would not happen any safari of right-wing radicals all day. Something has changed, hasn’t it? Happy Pride!

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