Pride march in Kharkiv goes underground, under threat from Russian missiles

In a Kharkov subway station with a herringbone motif on the ceiling shortly before Pride starts, there is no indication that a demonstration is imminent. Except maybe the two circles of police and other security personnel on the platform. One group in uniform, one club in plain clothes. The demonstrators appear just before the agreed time. They hang their rainbow flags on the spot.

“I doubted whether I should come to Pride during the war. But then I realized that it is the perfect time to stand up for human rights,” says Jaroslav Melnyk (25) from Lviv. He wears a vysjyvanka, an embroidered national dress, and has a black tattoo heart on his cheek that reminds him to open up to the world.

LGBT activists walk through a metro station in Kharkiv on Sunday during the Pride demonstration.

Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Because of the war, the organization decided to keep the meeting small. And underground, out of reach of possible Russian attacks, where many inhabitants also sought refuge in the early months of the war when Kharkov was still under heavy siege. The location was only provided to people who signed up. About thirty LGBT people are there. The route of the pride march leads to the Constitution Square and is taken by metro.


Also read: Neighbors became enemies in the Russian-Ukrainian border area

Daily rockets

The activists who NRC expresses hope about the position of LGBT people in Ukraine. Several attendees feel that attitudes in Ukraine towards LGBT people are softening during the war. “We are just standing here two weeks after rockets fell on Kharkov every day. And the police support us,” says Irina Lysikova, who attends the demonstration with her friend. “People understand more because of the war. In the first place come the important things in life, which come before the prejudices.”

A petition asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to legalize same-sex marriage was signed 25,800 times this summer. 25,000 signatures are needed to formally put the subject on the agenda. During the war, gay marriage for LGBT Ukrainians has become much more than a symbol of acceptance.

The important things in life come first, before the prejudices

Irina Lysikova participant of the Pride March Kharkov

Partners of LGBT people who serve at the front and are injured cannot prove their relationship and therefore cannot request information about their loved one. If an LGBT person dies at the front, the surviving partner is not entitled to an allowance from the state, as spouses receive. “I think the war has made same-sex marriage more realistic, I see how my country is changing,” says Lysikova.

LGBT activists walk into a metro station in Kharkiv on Sunday during the Pride demonstration.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

LGBT activists at a metro station in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Sunday during the Pride demonstration.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

A participant in the pride march in the Kharkov metro is sitting in a wagon on Sunday. The route was taken by metro.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Participant in the Pride March in the Kharkov metro on Sunday.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

President Zelensky is apparently sensitive to these arguments. In an official response to the petition, Zelensky said in August that while it is unconstitutional to amend the civil code in times of war, he has instructed the cabinet to investigate the options for registered partnerships for same-sex couples.

“I hope it does,” says Melnyk. He thinks so. “Ukrainians are now realizing that life is short,” says Melnyk. “You saw more and more acceptance before the war, but the war has given the fight for human rights a boost.”


Pride was organized in Kharkiv for the first time in 2019. In 2021 for the second time. Then three thousand more people gathered. That march through the city was also accompanied by many police. There was also a counter-protest from the far right.

Also this Sunday there is the fear that the extreme right is showing its face. “Now you have to put your coat back on,” a friendly officer tells Melnyk as he walks towards the exit of the metro. Does he think it is too cold? “No, he wants me to cover my clothes because he’s afraid we’ll be attacked,” Melnyk says. “I think it’s going to be okay.”

At the top of the Constitution Square, the police give urgent advice: do not stay together for too long. And get rid of the rainbow flags. Except for some colorful necklaces and earrings, the group is now absorbed in the audience again.

LGBT activists emerge from a subway in the Kharkiv underground during the Pride demonstration on Sunday. Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Pride march Kharkiv underground threat Russian missiles

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