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Russian airstrike kills Ukrainian LGBTQ activist

Elvira Schemur died in Kharkiv on March 1

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Elvira Schemur (Photo courtesy of Maksym Eristavi/Twitter)

A Russian airstrike earlier this month killed a Ukrainian LGBTQ activist.

Maksym Eristavi, who is a Kyiv Pride board member, on Thursday in a tweet said Elvira Schemur was killed “by Russian bombing” in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

Eristavi, who is now in Prague, on Friday told the Washington Blade that Schemur was “volunteering inside” the regional administration building in Kharkiv on March 1 when a Russian missile struck it. Eristavi noted Schemur was a 21-year-old law student and a “kickass volunteer” for Kyiv Pride and Kharkiv Pride.

“Rest in power Elvira,” tweeted Eristavi.

Kharkiv Pride on Friday also mourned Schemur.

“Elya was an activist and a patriot,” tweeted Kharkiv Pride. “She participated in all possible actions and democratic events of Kharkiv.”

Russia has continued to lay siege to Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities since it invaded the country on Feb. 24.

Magomed Tushayev, a Chechen warlord who played a role in the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in his homeland, died on Feb. 26 during a skirmish with the Ukrainian military’s elite Alpha Group outside of Kyiv. A White House official the day earlier told the Blade that the Biden administration has “engaged directly” with LGBTQ Ukrainians and other vulnerable populations.

Olena Shevchenko, chair of Insight, another Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, on March 10 left her home in Kyiv and evacuated to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that is close to the country’s border with Poland. OutRight Action International and EuroPride are among the groups that continue to raise funds for Kharkiv Pride and other organizations inside Ukraine.

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Eastern Europe

EuroPride march takes place in Serbia capital

A group of Albanian activists attacked after event

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EuroPride Pride march on Sept.17, 2022, in Belgrade, Serbia (Photo courtesy of EuroPride)

As thousands of LGBTQ people, advocates, activists and allies marched under rainy skies in the Serbian capital on Saturday, there were only minor clashes between anti-LGBTQ protestors and Serbian police, who had been deployed in overwhelming force along the parade route.

According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior nearly 6,000 uniformed police in riot gear and accompanied by plainclothes security personnel cordoned off the march area around the Constitutional Court in downtown Belgrade. Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin had warned in a statement that “we will not tolerate any violence in Belgrade streets, any more than illegal marches.”

European media outlets France 24 and Agence Presse France reported that 64 people were arrested as anti-LGBTQ demonstrators clashed with police in attempts to disrupt the Pride march. Once group of half a dozen people carrying crosses and religious icons managed to get past police cordons to where the EuroPride parade participants were gathering, treading on the rainbow flag which was on the road, praying and singing. Police managed to remove them in minutes.

Serbian state media outlets reported that anti-pride protesters were also stopped by police in riot gear at the central Slavija Square. The large group of protesters wanted to get past the cordon and head towards the parade gathering.

An N1 reporter said that a large group of football hooligans clashed with police near St. Sava Temple, throwing firecrackers and torches at the police. The police cordon managed to push them back.

“I am here to preserve Serbian traditions, faith and culture which are being destroyed by sodomites,” Andrej Bakic, 36, a counter-protester in a group surrounded by riot police told AFP on Saturday.

During a routine Saturday press conference at the end of last month Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that the international EuroPride event scheduled to be held in the Serbian capital city from Sept. 12-18 was cancelled.

The Serbian leader told reporters that his government had come under intense pressure from far right-wing groups and the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the event. Vucic acknowledged that LGBTQ rights and people in the Balkan nation were under siege and threatened. However he deflected on the issue, “It is not a question of whether [those pressures] are stronger,” he said. “It’s just that at some point you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it.”

Reaction to the Serbian leader’s remarks was swift with the European Pride Organizers Association that licenses EuroPride writing in a statement that any ban would be in violation of articles of the European Convention of Human Rights in regards to human rights and protections for sexual minorities.

The government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reversed its late August decision to ban the international EuroPride parade event on Sept. 15, Serbian state media reported.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Serbia, where homophobia remains deep-seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.

More than 20 embassies — including the U.S., France and the U.K. — had issued a joint statement urging the authorities to lift the ban.

There has been violence at previous Pride events being held in the Serbian Capital city, most notably on Oct. 10, 2010, when anti-LGBTQ and ultra nationalist anti-government protesters fought with about 5,000 armed Serbian police resulting in 78 police officers and 17 civilians that were injured some seriously and more than 100 arrests and detentions.

The violence also severely damaged the parking garage of the ruling pro-European Democratic Party in an act of arson, the state TV building and the headquarters of other political parties were also damaged.

The rioting came as Serbia was seeking admittance as a European Union member state.

A spokesperson for the ILGA-Europe said that since 2014 Pride events were held in Belgrade under mostly peaceful conditions, but there is extreme pushback from the ultra-nationalist groups and especially those groups aligned with the Orthodox Church.

Media outlet euronews reported that a group of about 10 Albanian LGBTQ activists, who had attended the EuroPride parade were attacked by Serbian extremists, but the attack occurred roughly a couple of hours after the parade had ended as the Albanians were apparently headed into their hotel. 

A local journalist, Isa Myzyraj , said that two people in the group ended up in hospital.  He added that the group was not identifying themselves as parade participants with clothing, signs, etc., and that even though the Serbian police were literally not but a few feet away they didn’t intervene. 

The attackers were thought to be far right nationalists who were still in the area after the parade ended. Myzyraj said that he was not sure if the Albanian group was attacked specifically because of being LGBTQ or if their nationality played a role. 

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Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine city to hold Pride events

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

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(Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

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 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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