(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For days, death threats and homophobic slurs have been pouring into Sofiia Lapina’s inbox – a constant reminder of the hatred she often encounters as an LGBT + rights activist in Ukraine.
Members of a far-right channel on the Telegram messaging app posted Lapina’s phone number last month and – following a spate of recent attacks on the LGBT + community – she is at skin flower. Some people have also found his address.
“They photographed my balcony, the entrance to my building, and they sent everything to me,” she said.
“It’s hard to sleep knowing that people have told you (they are chasing you).”
Ukraine legalized gay sex in 1991, but conservative elements in the predominantly Orthodox Christian nation often speak out against the rights of LGBT + people, and members of the far right regularly target groups and events related to the community.
Activists said homophobic abuse and violence could increase in part due to the growing visibility of the former Soviet nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Clashes erupted between police and far-right supporters on Friday outside the president’s office, where Lapina’s UkrainePride organization was staging a rave demanding LGBT + equality, local media reported.
“The LGBT movement is becoming more powerful, more productive, more effective,” said Lenny Emson, director of KyivPride, which has postponed its annual march in the capital from June to September of this year due to COVID-19.
“On the other hand, the stronger we are, the greater the backlash.”
” I CAN NOT WALK “
LGBT Human Rights Nash Mir Center, which monitors anti-LGBT + violence in Ukraine, recorded 24 attacks against LGBT + centers and events last year, more than double the figure for 2019.
Police data shows 14 hate crimes were recorded due to sexual orientation and gender identity in 2019.
But rights organizations said the actual number was likely much higher, in part because many victims are reluctant to surrender to the police.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe received reports of more than 140 incidents – ranging from threats to physical attacks – in Ukraine in 2019.
When such crimes are reported to the police, the homophobic or transphobic motives are largely ignored, instead of being classified as acts of “hooliganism,” the Nash Mir Center said.
Ukraine’s interior ministry, which is in charge of policing, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ilyess El Kortbi, 24, was assaulted in June after participating in a protest outside the president’s office in Kiev to demand a response to anti-LBGT + attacks and support a bill that would strengthen protection for victims of hate crimes.
He had to be hospitalized after three unidentified people beat him in front of a cafe after cursing him.
“I have a concussion … I cannot walk, I fall, I have nausea,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from a Kiev hospital several days after the incident.
In May, a dozen members of a far-right group raided the screening of an LGBT + film jointly organized by KyivPride, smashing windows and launching a rocket and tear gas canister at the premises, KyivPride said on Facebook.
A spokeswoman for the Kyiv police said that criminal proceedings under the hooliganism article had been launched for the assault on Kortbi and the disturbance in the screening of the film.
Two days later, members of another far-right group stormed events organized by LGBT + rights group Insight in Kiev and the city of Odessa.
Vandals also attacked the Odessa office of another LGBT + organization, the LGBT LIGA association, the groups said.
“If the police had arrested these attackers who tried to disrupt the Insight event that day, then they would not have come to our office and smashed our windows,” said the LIGA president. , Oleg Alyokhin.
Police said they investigated the disruption of the Insight event in Kiev, but found no grounds for a criminal offense.
Local and international rights groups have condemned the recent wave of attacks in the country, where discrimination against gay men in the workplace was only banned in 2015.
In June, Amnesty International Ukraine described the violence as part of a “targeted campaign to intimidate feminists and LGBTI activists by hate groups”.
However, Olena Shevchenko, director of Insight, said a recently proposed anti-discrimination bill could help tackle anti-LGBT + crimes by giving police a specific mechanism to investigate them.
The bill, which was submitted in May, proposes to add sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for crimes of intolerance or hate crimes.
Similar bills were withdrawn last year after lobbying from religious groups, but Andrii Kravchuk of the Nash Mir Center said the latest effort held more promise as it was developed by the police and submitted by the cabinet.
Lapina said she did not have high hopes for justice, citing what she called the authorities’ inaction.
“It’s activism in Ukraine,” she said. “You are constantly being pursued. “
Reporting by Natalie Vikhrov @natalievikhrov; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh, Helen Popper and Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org