Is Ukraine the Liberal Island in Eastern Europe?

December 2, 2022

This talk features the amazing Dzvenyslava Shcherba – a Ukrainian human rights activist and human rights defender. Her activism is focused mostly on women’s rights and LGBTQI rights. We spoke with Dzvenyslava about what is going on in Ukraine regarding human rights now, and daily life in Kyiv.

We also discussed the ongoing war and refugee crisis, and the progress Ukraine made in LGBTQI human rights in comparison to Russia’s continuing persecution of LGBTQI people. The USA must continue supporting Ukraine to support human rights in Eastern Europe and worldwide.

Full video conversation you can find on YouTube by the link.

About the situation in Ukraine

At present, the situation is really ambivalent, in cities like Kyiv, Lviv people go to cafes, have meetings, they lead more or less normal life but the moment is really unstable, there are bombings and shellings every day. Right now, Ukraine is getting ready to another massive missiles strike that can take place any day and cause one more blackout. It’s really impossible to work and study as internet connection and electricity are not available on a regular basis. Sometimes, you have to move round the city to find stable internet, or even food. It sounds ridiculous when you realize that all this is happening in the 21st century. People continue dying from Russian bombs and missile attacks. But at the same time people are united and ready to fight evil. Everyone tries to support each other. Ukrainians were very happy when Ukrainian army liberated Kherson.

In Kyiv people try to live more or less normal life, they go to cafes, walking around, everything is working. Businesses, like cafes, restaurants bought generators to keep their business afloat, supermarkets are also open, groceries are available. Sometimes restaurants arrange candlelit dinners. But when the evening comes the streets plunge into darkness and it’s very hard to see especially in Christmas season. Everyone in Ukraine would like to celebrate but unfortunately, it’s not possible.

Refugees situation

The people don’t flee from big cities which are far from the frontline. They are just trying to make their lives as comfortable as possible. It means that they have to buy some equipment to keep themselves warm. Of course, there are people that are leaving, for example, newly liberated territories, such as Kherson Oblast since the shellings intensified in that area. But the number of refugees cannot be even remotely compared the numbers we had in February and March. There are people who came back to Ukraine from abroad.

LGBT in Ukraine

Right now, LGBT movement in Ukraine is mostly focused on security issues. It’s about safety, providing shelters to LGBT people who had to leave their homes, organizing events where people can socialize and come together. An interesting fact is that many LGBT activists moved to western Ukraine. Before war LGBT organizations were not very visible in that region as it’s considered to be conservative and there is big impact of religious organizations on people there. Now, Lviv has become the center of LGBT movement in Ukraine. Some LGBT organization continue functioning even in such cities as Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipro. Right now, their activities are focused more on the humanitarian help, as well as providing assistance to LGBT soldiers. Ukraine has a very strong LGBT movement of people who serve in army. Ukraine is making some progress in LGBT issues. There was a petition on the presidential website in support of same-sex marriages which was published by LGBT person and was supported by more than 20 000 people. Civil partnership law looks quite realistic, there is hope that in few years Ukraine will make that step. There is a big problem with LGBT rights on occupied territories, people are tortured, kidnapped and prosecuted. The most important now is to win the war to be able to continue making progress.

Situation in Russia

Russia adopted a new propaganda law which prohibits talking about LGBT at all. This law is a part of this regime. They keep on using anti-western narrative which says that LGBT people live mostly in western countries and they are ruining traditional values, they are dangerous for families and children. Russian propaganda also says that war in Ukraine started because of LGBT prides Ukraine was organizing. Hatred to LGBT is an essential part of Russian political regime. The law Russia adopted is very dangerous for LGBT people on occupied territories as Russia exercises effective control there and can easily prosecute people based on their sexual orientation. This law is another step to ban freedom of speech and expression. Right now, for example, in New York there is a bigger number of LGBT people coming from Russia comparing to LGBT Ukrainians.

**Ukraine is a human right center of Eastern Europe. **

Ukraine has become a center of human rights. There are very many good things done for LGBT. People are very active, they unite, organize different projects, make themselves visible. They are fighting for their rights and this brings changes. You don’t have that in Russia or Belarus. Freedom is a national idea of Ukrainians; it comes from the Cossack state. All anti-LGBT stuff seems to be imposed by former Soviet Union and later Russia. Hating others is not natural for Ukrainian nation.

Why the USA have to keep on supporting Ukraine.

In the US there are some voices that call on stopping providing help to Ukraine and it’s very painful to hear because if Ukraine will stop resisting it will lose its independence, more people will suffer under occupation, they will go through tortures. We shouldn’t have any illusions, we have already seen what happened in occupied territories, in Mariupol, in Bucha, in Kherson. People were just killed because they are Ukrainians. All Russian propaganda, their opinion leaders, they justify the violence towards Ukrainians, they say that it’s good to kill Ukrainians, destroy everything which is connected to Ukraine. Speaking about LGBT rights, there will be none if Russia prevails. It may end up with criminal prosecution of LGBT people as it’s absolutely in line with Russia’s ideology. American support is about independence of Ukraine, about protecting people’s lives. Before the war came to Ukraine, we used to live normal life, we had some plans, had our work, studies, all of these was destroyed in just one moment because of Russia’s ambitions. Ukraine really needs support from the USA and from all over the world. If Ukraine loses in this war, the tyranny and hatred will spread further. Stand up for Ukraine and demand justice, it’s crucial for the free world. If Russia invades Ukraine LGBT people will be dying just silently in prisons, they will be tortures and kidnapped. Russia has long history of torturing Ukrainians, it’s not a good power that will just take over the territories, they will kill and destroy everything they can reach to.

We seek to assist Ukrainian LGBTQ + individuals living in the US and Canada to integrate, adapt, and productively contribute to American society.