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Four Ukraine LGBTQ activists attacked inside Kyiv office

Nash Mir says group of ‘bandits’ responsible

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A group of "bandits" broke into the offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ rights group, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 1, 2022, and attacked four people who were inside. (Photo courtesy of Nash Mir)

An LGBTQ rights group in Ukraine on Tuesday said a group of “bandits” broke into their office in the country’s capital and attacked four activists who were inside.

Nash Mir Coordinator Andriy Maymulakhin in an email to supporters wrote that “some unknown people broke (the) door in our office in” Kyiv where four of his colleagues were living and “brutally beat them and robbed (them.)”

“We do not know who they are,” said Maymulakhin, who noted the assailants had guns. “They humiliated my friends. They are bandits.”

Maymulakhin said his four colleagues are now at a “shelter” in Kyiv. 

An LGBTQ activist in the Ukrainian capital with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Tuesday confirmed the Nash Mir staffers who were attacked “are safe.” It is not immediately clear who carried out the attack, but it took place against the backdrop of Russian troops’ continued advance towards Kyiv.

Magomed Tushayev, a Chechen warlord who played a role in the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in his homeland, on Saturday died during a skirmish with the Ukrainian military’s elite Alpha Group outside of Kyiv. A White House official late last week told the Blade the Biden administration has “engaged directly” with LGBTQ Ukrainians and other groups that Russia may target if it gains control of their country.

‘I am not going anywhere’

Olena Shevchenko, chair of Insight, another Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, in a post to her Facebook page on Tuesday said she heard “powerful explosions nearby” in reference to the destruction of Kyiv’s main TV tower. Shevchenko, who lives in Kyiv, in another Facebook post on Tuesday wrote the city “is under permanent bombing all the time.” 

“It’s the sixth day of this nightmare,” wrote Shevchenko. “Many of my friends are spending all night in the basements or subway stations. My parents told me they put Ukrainian flag on their balcony. They are not going anywhere, it’s their home. I am not going anywhere, it’s my home too. We are staying and continue to help others as much as we can do in these circumstances.”

Anna Sharyhina is the co-founder of the Sphere Women’s Association, which is based in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

Sharyhina on Tuesday posted to her Facebook page a video of a Russian missile strike a regional administration building in Kharkiv that is on the city’s Freedom Square.

“I am in Kharkiv right now with my family in an extended compound,” said Sharyhina on Tuesday in another post to her Facebook page that she wrote in Russian. “We live close to the city center and here a lot of sounds. We go into a room without windows.”

Sharyhina in the same Facebook post pleaded with Russia to stop shelling Kharkiv.

“I know that the European Parliament is meeting now,” wrote Sharyhina. “Everyone asks me what will we be, given the status of a candidate country, and I don’t know what to answer, but let the explosions in Kharkiv stop, so we can at least do something.”

The Sphere Women’s AssociationInsight and Nash Mir are all accepting donations through their respective websites.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships for same-sex couples

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)

The president of Ukraine 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

Gay Lithuania MP sharply criticizes Russia

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius elected to Seimas in 2020

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Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius. (Photo courtesy of Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

A gay man who is a member of Lithuania’s Parliament last week said his country could be Russia’s next target.

“Historically after independence in the early 90s, Lithuania was very critical and fearful of its attitudes towards its neighbors,” MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius told the Washington Blade on April 28 during a telephone interview from Vilnius, the country’s capital, in reference to Russia. “The current events in Ukraine simply prove that we were right.”

“We have to understand very clearly that Russia is using not only military force, not only its gas and oil, but it is also using its soft powers,” added Raskevičius. “These soft powers are certain, specific world views which Russia tries to impose to its neighboring countries and those ideas are usually anti-human rights and anti-liberal democracy, so they are portraying human rights and liberal democracy as a threat, rather as a benefit to the society.”

Raskevičius further stressed that LGBTQ rights are “part of this Russia propaganda campaign.”

“They’re portraying the West as being rotten, plagued with abominations,” he said.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic Sea. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Raskevičius, 33, is a member of the liberal Freedom Party.

He worked for what is now called the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in New York and the Lithuanian Gay League, among other NGOs, before his election to the Vilnius City Council in 2019. Raskevičius in 2020 won a seat in the Lithuanian Parliament, which is known as the Seimas.

Raskevičius noted he is the second openly gay person elected to the Seimas, but the “first one” with a “pro-LGBT human rights agenda.” Raskevičius currently chairs the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee.

Russian, Belarusian LGBTQ groups relocate to Lithuania

Raskevičius said more than 50,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania since Russia invaded their country in February.

He told the Blade he knows of “isolated incidents” of LGBTQ Ukrainians in the country, noting that “LGBT people went to more open or progressive places than Lithuania.” Raskevičius said LGBTQ organizations are among the NGOs from Russia and Belarus that have relocated to Lithuania after their governments cracked down on them.

“Our local community demonstrates quite a high level of solidarity,” he said. “This is what the struggle for freedom is all about. It’s not only about physical security, but also security from Russian propaganda or soft power.”

Raskevičius also called for continued military cooperation and more economic sanctions against Russia.

“What is really important is not to get used to the war,” he said. “It has already been more than 60 days and you know people are getting used to seeing the terrible things on their TV and it becomes routine … we should be very mindful that we push harder because if Ukraine doesn’t win, we become the next one in the line.”

Raskevičius added Lithuania places “a lot of trust in our security partners, including the United States and NATO.”

“I wouldn’t say there is panic or any kind of that stuff, but it’s very close,” he said. “(Ukraine is) less than 1,000 km (621 miles) away and we have quite a nasty history with the Soviet Union and Russia, so we know what it’s all about it.”

Raskevičius sponsor of civil partnerships bill

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation

The country on Sunday officially lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men, but opposition to LGBTQ rights remains strong. Raskevičius noted Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

He has introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

LGBTQ rights opponents who Raskevičius said have “documented ties” to Russia in 2021 launched a petition to remove him as chair of the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee “because apparently a person who is gay cannot chair the committee who is in charge of all human rights.” Recall supporters claimed more than 300,000 people signed the petition, but Raskevičius noted journalists discovered the vast majority of them were fake.

Raskevičius told the Blade that opposition to the civil partnership bill was the “pretext” behind the petition. He acknowledged the ongoing debate over whether lawmakers should consider the measure “with war in our neighborhood,” but he stressed “it’s the best time to do so.”  

“We have to choose whether we want to belong to the sphere of influence coming from the East, or we want to move into the West,” said Raskevičius.

Raskevičius’ son is 2 1/2. He told the Blade that fatherhood has shaped his work in support of LGBTQ rights and human rights.

“For a very long time LGBT people were not visible in Lithuania,” said Raskevičius. “LGBT parents was another level of invisibility. These people exist, but they don’t publicly share their experiences because they are concerned about the well-being of their kids.”

“Me and other parents involved in my child’s upbringing made the conscious decision to talk about our experiences publicly,” he added. “We want to encourage people they are not alone.”

The European Court of Human Rights last month heard a challenge to Lithuania’s so-called “gay propaganda law” that specifically bans the distribution of information to minors that “expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the republic of Lithuania.”

Author Neringa Dangvydė Macatė in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the law after Lithuanian authorities censured her children’s book that featured two same-sex couples. Bob Gilchrist, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, is among those who have publicly criticized the statute.

“Our law is also framed in terms of protecting minors from the detrimental kinds of public information and defines information about LGBT relationships as potentially detrimental,” noted Raskevičius. “Based on that legislation, public authorities could censor public information.”

Raskevičius during the interview also praised the U.S. Embassy and Gilchrist himself for their support of LGBTQ rights in Lithuania.

“The current ambassador demonstrates not only the embassy’s leadership, but he’s demonstrating personal leadership,” said Raskevičius. “He’s very open about who he is and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”

Raskevičius noted Gilchrist attends public events and speaks about LGBTQ rights on Lithuanian television.

“It’s a very powerful message because we see the United States as a strategic ally,” said Raskevičius. “They would not only defend our territory, but also defend the same values and regarding that, anti homophobic sentiments should have no place.”

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine LGBTQ group chair attacked

Man approached Olena Shevchenko in Lviv on Thursday

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A man on April 14, 2022, attacked Olena Shevchenko, chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, with pepper spray in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko)

A man on Thursday attacked the chair of an LGBTQ rights group in Ukraine with pepper spray.

Insight Chair Olena Shevchenko in a Facebook post said the man attacked her in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that is close to the country’s border with Poland, after she and her colleagues had loaded “humanitarian aid for women and children” onto a bus.

Shevchenko said “a guy in dark clothes” approached her on the street while she was talking on her cell phone and asked her a question. Shevchenko wrote the man attacked her with a balloon full of tear gas when she turned around to speak with him.

“I called (the) police and emergency (services),” wrote Shevchenko. “I have chemical injuries to my face and eyes, hands.”

Shevchenko posted pictures to her Facebook page that show her washing the tear gas out of her eyes. Shevchenko also wrote hospital personnel “gave me all the assistance I needed in this case.”

Shevchenko told the Washington Blade the man who attacked her “recognized me.” Shevchenko also said he was Ukrainian.

“I think it was planned,” said Shevchenko.

Shevchenko in her Facebook page wrote she hopes “the police identify him.”

“I am angry and very disappointed,” Shevchenko told the Blade.

Shevchenko on March 10 left her home in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and evacuated to Lviv where she and her colleagues continue to support LGBTQ Ukrainians and others whose Russia’s invasion of the country has displaced.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an activist who volunteered with Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country. A group of “bandits” on the same day broke into the Kyiv offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ rights group, and attacked four activists who were inside.

Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBTQ Ukrainians, on March 2 used her bicycle to flee the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Her son, Bogdan Globa, and his husband, Harmilee Cousin, brought her to New York a few days later.

The U.S. is among the countries that have condemned Russia over the atrocities its soldiers committed in Bucha while they occupied it. President Biden this week described the war as genocide.

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