Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked fears about the safety of LGBTIQ people in the country, with the US warning of a human rights catastrophe.
In a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, US Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker warned of “disturbing information recently obtained by the United States that indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned.”
Bachelet said that these acts have in past Russian operations included “targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions, and the use of torture…”
Those who are likely to be targeted include not only those who oppose Russian actions but also “vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”
Bachelet added that “we have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”
Russia not only actively restricts the rights of its LGBTIQ citizens with oppressive laws and policies but has also turned a blind eye to the horrific kidnapping and murder of LGBTIQ people in Chechnya, which is part of the Russian Federation.
In a series of frantic posts on its Facebook page, the organisers of Kyiv Pride called on the international community to stand up and take action against the invasion.
“We stay strong, we are not intimidated,” said the defiant organisers. “Putin breaks all his teeth trying to bite us. We have left far behind the past he seeks to drag us into. We are a country that has chosen the values of human rights, humanity, life, personality. Putin lives in the past, where he belongs.”
Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian organisation that assists LGBTIQ people to flee from persecution around the world, stated that the situation in Ukraine “is alarming” and that it is “concerned about the impact this conflict will have on the LGBTQI+ community in Ukraine.”
Executive Director Kimahli Powell said that “we need to be prepared for the displacement of LGBTQI+ people in Ukraine.” He noted, however, that based on governments’ inept response to the recent crisis facing LGBTIQ people in Afghanistan, support could likely be “reactionary” and “inadequate”.
European LGBTIQ activist Rémy Bonny urged LGBTIQ Ukrainians who are able to travel safely to get to the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing of Lviv-Rzeszow. “A humanitarian corridor has [been] set up by US & Polish army, and evacuees will be welcomed at the G2A Arena,” he tweeted.
Putin, who has been in power as either prime minister or president for more than 20 years, signed a federal law in 2013 prohibiting so-called ‘gay propaganda’, which has been used to ban LGBTIQ Pride events and demonstrations and to restrict the positive depiction of LGBTIQ people in public, on television, in print and on the internet.
Starting in February 2017, dozens of men “accused” of being gay were rounded up, detained in secret facilities, tortured and in some cases killed in Chechnya. Russian federal authorities have still not taken any action against this so-called “gay purge” and refused to open any criminal investigations.
Ukraine has become increasingly LGBTIQ-accepting since the fall of the Soviet Union and its independence in 1991. In 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament banned sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace. In 2016, the country simplified the transition process for transgender people and began allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood.
The country remains socially conservative, however; same-sex relationships have no legal recognition and same-sex-couple adoption is not allowed.