March 20, 2016 at 1:27 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Bomb threat, protesters disrupt Ukraine LGBT festival

Ukraine, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters throw stones outside a hotel in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 19, 2016, where an LGBT festival was taking place. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko/Insight)

A bomb threat prompted the cancellation of an LGBT festival in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday.

Olena Shevchenko of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBT advocacy group that organized the Equality Festival Lviv, told the Washington Blade on Sunday during a telephone interview that authorities evacuated the hotel in which the event was taking place around 5 p.m. local time.

“We had a discussion, film screenings and also a few hours of events and then somebody called the hotel and said, ‘There will be an explosion,’” said Shevchenko. “They started the evacuation.”

More than 50 people were attending the festival inside a conference room at the time of the evacuation.

A video posted to YouTube shows police officers ushering attendees out of the hotel to awaiting buses.

Shevchenko told the Blade that around 200 people had gathered outside the hotel during the festival. The YouTube video shows someone throwing a firecracker at one of the buses.

Shevchenko told the Blade that the protesters tried to prevent the buses from leaving the hotel. Another video shows them throwing stones at police officers after those who were attending the festival had left the area.

“It was a bit scary,” Shevchenko.

Shevchenko told the Blade that the police took her and festival attendees to another location before telling them to go back “to the city and take care of yourself.”

She said that small groups of “ultra-Nazis” in downtown Lviv were searching for people “who looked like gays” and asking them to show them their phones. Shevchenko told the Blade that they were also asking for her by name.

Public gatherings banned ahead of festival

The event had been scheduled to take place in a museum, but it said last week it would no longer do so because of “anonymous threats to commit physical violence and property destruction.”

Deputy Mayor Marta Litvinyuk told a local media outlet that the Lviv City Council had not “received any official request” from Insight about the festival.

Shevchenko told the Blade that a court at 4 a.m. on Saturday ruled that all public gatherings were cancelled in the city near Ukraine’s border with Poland. She said it announced the decision after she and other festival organizers attended a six-hour hearing.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi in a Facebook post criticized festival organizers. Shevchenko told the Blade that hotel personnel described them as “provocateurs” as they and the police evacuated them.

Ukraine Today, a Ukrainian television station, reported U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Waschuk have condemned Saturday’s events. Ukrainian MP Mustafa Nayyem is among the officials in the former Soviet republic who have also spoken out against the protesters.

A State Department spokesperson told the Blade that Pyatt and other U.S. officials “have been in contact with the event organizers, the Ukrainian government and the LGBTI community to express our support for the rights of LGBTI individuals to express themselves freely without fear of arrest, violence or retribution.”

Shevchenko: ‘We plan to continue’

The festival took place less than a year after nationalists who sought to disrupt an LGBT Pride march in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev left nine police officers injured.

A court in the city of Odessa in August 2015 banned an LGBT Pride march, citing the “real danger and threat to public order in the city, as well as to health and lives of participants and other citizens.” Reports of anti-LGBT violence committed by members of Ukrainian nationalist groups have increased in recent years.

Shevchenko told the Blade on Sunday that her organization plans to hold additional events across the country.

“Of course we plan to continue,” she said.

Ukraine, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBT advocacy group, attend a court hearing in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 18, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko/Insight)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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