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“Our flag is Blue & Yellow;” LGBTQ+ Ukrainians on Russian aggression

Several Ukrainian LGBTQ+ activists characterized the crisis bluntly as ‘hashtag Biden’s War’ and they will defend their homeland

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President Biden meets with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday. (Official White House photo)

KYIV – As Western efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine over the naked aggressive military moves taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin intensify, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Tuesday night that he was calling up the country’s military reservists after the Russian Parliament signed off on approving Putin’s decision to send combat troops into Eastern Ukraine.

Western media and governments, particularly the United States and its NATO partners, have painted a grim picture of the state of affairs along Ukraine’s borders with President Joe Biden declaring in a White House East Room press conference Tuesday that the U.S. would impose immediate sanctions after Putin ordered Russian troops deployed across the frontier.

Speaking with reporters afterwards, a senior administration official said; “Russia’s long-previewed invasion of Ukraine has now begun, and our response has also begun. Today, we responded swiftly and in a united fashion with our Allies and partners.  The speed and coordination of the response was historic.  We announced our first tranche of sanctions in less than a day with Allies and partners from the European Union, from the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia.”

The official added, “And let me be totally clear: No Russian financial institution is safe if this invasion proceeds.  We are ready to press a button to take further action on the very largest Russian financial institutions, including Sperbank and VTB, which collectively hold almost $750 billion in assets — or more than half the total in Russia as a whole.

Third, together with our Allies, we’ve also cut off the Russian government, the Russian Central Bank, and its sovereign wealth funds from U.S. financing.  Europe has taken a very similar measure.  That means the Kremlin can no longer raise money from the U.S. and Europe, and its new debt can no longer trade in U.S. or European markets.”

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said that in addition to calling up reservists, Ukrainian President Zelensky will also enact a 30-day state of emergency which would impose curfews and restrict mass gatherings in certain regions and cities to include the second largest city in the country, Kharkiv, which lies 42 km (26 miles) from the Russian border in Eastern Ukraine, “if necessary.”

Human rights activists and Western governments are also alarmed at the prospects of a Russian invasion. In a letter sent this week to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, the U.S. Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva wrote, in part:

I would like to bring to your attention disturbing information recently obtained by the United States that indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned.

These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”

Americans officials have stated that the Russian governmental security and intelligence agencies have come up with “kill lists” of Ukrainians to be killed or detained as indicated in Ambassador Crocker’s letter.

A spokesperson for the office of the Director of Information and Press Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova, denied these claims in a phone call with the Blade, labeling it propaganda Tuesday.

The majority of Ukrainians seem nonplussed at Western reaction to what they are terming “Biden’s war.” However, many of the LGBTQ+ activists are not phased by the claims alleged in the Ambassador’s letter and are prepared to defend their homeland, some of them also disputing that they would be facing arrest and ‘mortal danger.’

Taras Karasiichuk, a leader of the Ukrainian LGBTQ community in Kyiv, spoke with the Blade by phone Monday. Karasiichuk, in 2012 had been viciously attacked by anti-LGBTQ+ Ukrainians opposed to his efforts as an activist for LGBTQ rights organization Gay Alliance Ukraine and also as the head of the Kiev Pride 2012 organizing committee. He had granted an interview to the Daily Beast in 2015 after unrelenting attacks and death threats caused him to flee to the United States seeking asylum.

“Right now I don’t see any possibility to come back because of security—all the threats we get because of our international campaign,” he said. “We get threats sent to our LGBT rights website, promises to punish us with Kalashnikovs. It’s difficult to say if they are really serious about the threats but after all the times I’ve been attacked I can’t really be sure.

“I also get threats on social networks. My colleagues and I at the rights organization will even get threats sent to our personal cell phone. And on June 19 there was an attempt to attack me on my way home from the office—it was around 7 pm and I had to call a taxi and leave quickly,” Karasiichuk said to the Daily Beast at the time.

He later returned to Ukraine after spending a few years in the U.S., returning to an active role in LGBTQ+ advocacy to push for greater equity and rights for his fellow LGBTQ+ citizens.

Taras Karasiichuk
(Photo courtesy of Taras Karasiichuk

In Monday’s phone call with the Blade, Karasiichuk strongly emphasized that there was no fear among the LGBTQ+ community in fact far from that. He said that he and every other LGBTQ+ Ukrainian would defend their homeland, their cities, and that they would support the armed forces.

Like many of his fellow citizens that the Blade spoke with, he execrated the Western response to the Russian actions, characterizing it as hyperbolic interference without merit. Several other Ukrainian LGBTQ+ activists put it more bluntly as ‘hashtag Biden’s War.’ Karasiichuk said that Western people were not well informed as to the reality of life in Ukraine and especially in regards to the LGBTQ+ community in the country “should not impose their ideas of values.”

Another LGBTQ+ activist living in Poltava, a city in central Ukraine- which is also the capital city of the Poltava Oblast (province), who asked that he and his partner only be identified by their first names, told the Blade over this past weekend that the strength of his culture and country would defend against any Russian aggression.

Sergeii told the Blade that he and his partner Mykhailo felt safe and would defend their home, their city and their fellow Ukrainians. “Our flag is Blue and Yellow- not divided into many colors in this example,” he said. “We are all united in this effort. If we need fight then we will fight.”

His partner Mykhailo said that one only needed to see the progress LGBTQ+ people are making in Ukraine. “We showed strength as in September, over 6,000 people gathered to Kyiv for the March for Equality. This is our message.”

“This is made-up crisis- Biden’s and Putin’s wanting to finish the situation in Donbas,” Sergeii said referring to the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists. “Everyone needs peace, to be peaceful in this manner and not provoke more fear- but still be willing to defend our homes,” he added.

Russian separatist forces of Donbas are the military formations affiliated with the pro-Russian breakaway regions in Ukraine called the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic which Putin has now officially recognized. Those forces are designated as terrorist groups by the government of Ukrainian President Zelensky.

Mykhailo pointed out that a vast majority of Ukrainian families were made of both Russian and Ukrainian parents or heritage but that above all was loyalty to Ukraine.

While there is a sense of anxiety among the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community there is also quiet unified determination to defend the nation. Almost all also expressed hope that the NATO partners and others would find a peaceful solution to the crisis but without a continuing sense of exaggerated claims and allegations that would further inflame tensions.

Late Wednesday, the Kyiv Post reported that President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Poland Andrzej Duda, and President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda have signed a joint statement calling upon the international community to take resolute and far-reaching steps in response to yet another act of aggression committed by Russia against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“The Presidents of Lithuania and Poland stand by Ukraine and fully commend and support its efforts to solve Russian-Ukrainian conflict by diplomatic and peaceful means. Ukraine deserves our strongest support of its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, which goes in line with the free will and choice of the Ukrainian nation,” reads the statement.

Eastern Europe

Huge show of support for Slovak LGBTQ+ people after murders

“Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are intensively & increasingly inciting spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community”

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20,000+ people gathered to honor victims of the hate crime in the Slovakian capital city (Photo Credit: Barbora Slivkova/Košice PRIDE)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – A vigil held Friday evening in the Slovakian capital city to honor the two victims killed and a third who was badly wounded in a Wednesday night shooting outside of the Tepláreň bar, a popular LGBTQ+ establishment in the old city, was also attended by the nation’s president and the European Parliament’s Vice-President.

Organized by the Initiative Inakosť (Iniciatíva Inakosť), a LGBTQ+ non-governmental agency, there were an estimated 20,000 plus people gathered according to officials. The murders shook the tight-knit Slovakian LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Slovakia is a fairly conservative European Union member country where same-sex marriage is not legal.

A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, said that his agency has classified the shootings as premeditated murder, motivated by hatred of a sexual minority.

19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right extremist Vlast party, a radicalised student from Bratislava, had left social media posts filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ messages including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage.

Krajcik, who had an online history of hate-filled rhetoric had posted a picture of himself outside the Tepláreň bar this past August along with other writings and posts that led Polícia Slovenskej republiky investigators to conclude that the crime was planned.

Gunman’s August pictures taken in front of the Tepláreň bar from his Twitter & 4 Chan accounts

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

During the vigil for the shooting victims, Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told the crowd, “I’m sorry that our society was not able to protect your loved ones,” adding, “You belong here, you are valuable for our society.”

BBC Europe reported that European Parliament Vice-President Michal Simecka was also at Friday’s event. Simecka expressed his determination to have the European legislature discuss the murders during a session next week.

“To express our sympathy, but also to call on the Slovak authorities to take clear steps to put an end to the language of hatred towards LGBTI people,” he said.

In addition to political leadership at Friday evening’s vigil, Elena Martinčoková (Eleny Martinčokovej) the president of the Association of Parents and Friends of LGBTI+ people spoke expressing her grief and anger towards the environment in the country that fostered far-right hate.

In a Facebook post published by Košice PRIDE, she told the crowd;

I’m going through a lot of pain. Since I heard about this tragedy, I’m in spirit with the parents of the murdered children. They were adults, but they were mainly children, grandchildren, cousins, friends, colleagues who will be greatly missed and the wound and pain the survivors will feel will never heal.

Many tragedies affect us in life, some of them cannot be prevented. Yes to some of them. And this is exactly the one that could have been prevented. Long-term and intensively spreading and inciting hatred towards LGBT+ people in our public space. It is hatred that blinds people, prevents them from thinking sober.

Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are the ones who are intensively and increasingly inciting and spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community. They are all over the place. In the National Council of Slovakia, in government, among many church representatives, in extremist groups, among disinformation spreaders and those who do not have credible information, or when they have it, they do not understand them or do not want to understand. I hope this tragedy will not leave the public indifferent. We must act, we must act now. We will not be quiet. We are not going to be intimidated.

Video via România liberă, a Romanian daily newspaper founded in 1943 and currently based in Bucharest:

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Eastern Europe

Gunman dead in potential hate crime in Slovakian capital

A Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts

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Polícia Slovenskej republiky at shooting crime scene at LGBTQ bar on Oct. 12, 2022 (Photo Credit: Polícia Slovenskej republiky)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Three persons are dead including the gunman in a shooting in front of a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the old town neighborhood of the Slovakian capital city Wednesday evening. A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, told media outlets that the shooter was found deceased Thursday morning after an hours long search through the night.

Picture of the gunman from his now suspended Twitter account

The Polícia Slovenskej republiky said the incident at the Tepláreň bar on Zámocká Street in central Bratislava, left two young men dead and one woman injured, and investigators are naming the perpetrator, Local media identified him as 19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right Vlast party, a radicalised 19-year-old student from Bratislava.

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky also said that the female victim is in critical but stable condition at local hospital. She and one of two young men killed were both employed at the bar.

Allegations and speculation arose on social media as a Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage. That account also had a picture of the gunman outside the Tepláreň in mid-August.

Gunman’s August pictures in front of the bar from his Twitter& 4 Chan accounts

On Facebook Dúhový Pride Bratislava said, “We’re shocked by the information about the shooting and casualties at Tepláreň, where we meet regularly.” The organization changed its Facebook page photo to black. Iniciatíva Inakosť, another Slovakian LGBTQ+ organization followed suit.

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger condemned the double murder on Thursday in a press conference telling media outlets that “extremism is unacceptable.”

President Zuzana Čaputová called on politicians to stop spreading hate. “My thoughts are with the family & friends of the victims of yesterday’s horrific attack in Bratislava & everyone in the #LGBTIQ+ community affected by it,” Čaputová said in her Twitter post.

“Words can become weapons. Hate kills. As politicians, we must weigh every word we say before it’s too late,” she added.

Čaputová came to the scene of the shooting on Thursday afternoon, laying flowers in front of Tepláreň and embraced the owner of the bar.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky in a statement issued late Thursday said:

First of all, we would like to thank conscientious citizens who provided us with valuable information on the shooting case in Bratislava at 158. We need to remind everyone again and again: don’t hesitate to call 158. Just putting something on social media may not help. Thank you!

Police act from the first moment. The physical presence of our uniformed colleagues was undoubtedly noticed in the streets throughout the night.

Not only uniformed policemen worked and are working and not all of them are active in the field. Due to the ongoing investigation, but also the tactics, we can’t comment more closely, so we can’t even defend ourselves when any “guaranteed” news regarding our activities appear at these moments. Hence our silence at this stage, please understand.

Procedures to be followed by a police investigator are firmly established in the Criminal Order. Of course, his top priorities include finding the perpetrator’s motive. In order to publish his motive as a Police Department, it is necessary to take necessary actions.

We will inform you about everything, we are thinking about active communication, but we all have to be patient and give the investigator time and space.

And whether it is a hateful motive or not, we want to assure the public that the Police Department maintains zero tolerance for any form of violence, bullying or hatred. We have our values, which we will always stand by, which we have announced long ago.

Thank you for your help and understanding of the legal procedures we follow.

In a tweet Friday morning, LGBTQ+ rights group ILGA-Europe condemned the attack:

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Eastern Europe

Slovenia legalizes same-sex marriage & adoptions

Slovenia has become the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage & the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples

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Slovenian Parliament building, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Photo Credit: Parliament of Slovenia)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – This Eastern European country which emerged after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has become the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples.

After considerable debate Tuesday in the Slovenian parliament, 48 lawmakers passed legislation that guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry. 29 Members of Parliament opposed the legislation while one MP abstained.

This past July, the country’s Constitutional Court, in a 6-3 ruling, found that Slovenia law that granted rights to only opposite-sex marriages and adoptions violated a constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The Court ordered the Parliament to amend the law within six months to guarantee that all marriages and adoptions would be equal in the eyes of the law.

At the time of the high court’s ruling, Luka Mesec, the minister of labor, family, social affairs and equal opportunities, said: “The Constitutional Court has ordered us to do it, and we will do it with the greatest pleasure.”

Euronews reported that most of Slovenia’s Eastern European neighbors do not allow civil unions or same-sex marriages.

The government of Estonia came the closest in 2016 by agreeing to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws establishing same-sex civil partnerships – and in Hungary, even talking about homosexuality in front of minors has been punishable by a fine since summer 2021, euronews noted.

“With these changes, we are recognising the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time,” State Secretary Simon Maljevac told MPs when presenting the amendment.

The main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, criticised the court’s decision and organised several rallies against the new law.

“The best father will never replace a mother and vice versa,” said SDS parliamentary group chairman Alenka Jeraj prior to the debate and vote.

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Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine to celebrate Pride

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

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Kharkiv Pride (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Activists in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv will hold a series of Pride events in the coming days.

A press release that Kharkiv Pride released notes events that will take place from Saturday through Sept. 25 include a march, a performance that highlights efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ukraine and a “Memorial Day” for “LGBTQI+ people killed by the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv Pride and Kharkiv with You Charitable Foundation, a local NGO, will also hold “a crowdfunding campaign to collect money for the needs of women serving near Kharkiv.” 

“Just as Kharkiv stands at the forefront of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy, Kharkiv Pride actively resists at the forefront of the battle for human rights,” said Kharkiv Pride. ” Because this is our principal position, and this is the difference between Ukraine and the totalitarian regime of the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have recaptured large swaths of territory east of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control. Kharkiv Pride will also take place less than two months after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships law

Volodymyr Zelenskky responded to Kyiv Pride petition

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A participant in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022, indicates her support for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskky, has publicly endorsed a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky on Tuesday said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Kyiv Pride backed a marriage equality petition that was submitted to Volodymyr Zelenskky on July 12 with more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the legal threshold that requires him to consider it. 

Zelenskky in his response to the petition notes his support for marriage equality, but acknowledges the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and it cannot be amended while the country is under martial law. Zelenskky on Tuesday nevertheless directed his government to submit a report on whether same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships through the country’s existing legal framework or a bill that would go through Parliament.

“I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine with a request to consider the issue raised in the electronic petition and report about the relevant results,” said Zelenskky.

Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and Yulia Mulyukina, a lesbian couple who once lived in the Ukrainian city of Dniper, are among the millions of people who have fled the country since Russia began its war on Feb. 24. Baraniuk and Mulyukina last month told the Washington Blade in Berlin the fact that they are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship has prevented them from asking for asylum in the U.S. and Canada because the countries’ immigration systems are based on whether they are married or “common-law partners” respectively.

“Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Kyiv Pride on Tuesday welcomed Zelenskyy’s announcement.

“Congratulations to the community, the Pride movement,” tweeted Kyiv Pride. “Thank you to the authorities.”

Maksym Eristavi, who chairs Kyiv Pride’s board of directors, desribed Zelenskyy’s announcement as “historic.”

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Eastern Europe

LGBTQ+ pride parade in Bucharest draws ten thousand plus people

Dancing & waving rainbow, trans, and progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation that would ban future Pride gatherings

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Screenshot/YouTube Euronews

BUCHAREST, Romania – Supporters and activists of the LGBTQ+ movement numbering an estimated ten thousand people took part in Bucharest Pride 2022, marching along Calea Victoriei to Izvor Park in the city’s center Saturday afternoon into evening.

Pride was organised by ACCEPT, the non-governmental human rights organization in Romania that defends and promotes LGBTQ+ rights.

Dancing and waving rainbow, trans, and LGBTQ+ progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation in the Parliament of Romania that could potentially endanger future LGBTQ+ Pride parades and foster further anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

A bill already approved by one body of lawmakers in Parliament would bans so-called “gay propaganda” in schools, mirroring similar legislation in Hungary and Russia.

EURONEWS Romania: Bucureștiul, scena a două marșuri, Bucharest Pride și „Marșul pentru normalitate”:

(Romanian language broadcast)
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