KYIV— About 100 Ukrainian gay rights activists held the country's first gay rally Saturday, helped by police who arrested 13 people for trying to break up the march.
The activists walked for about 250 meters along Prospekt Peremohy (Victory Avenue) in the capital, Kyiv, while Orthodox Christian activists nearby chanted slogans denouncing them.
“Ukraine is not America. Kyiv is not Sodom,” shouted one anti-gay demonstrator over a loudspeaker.
A church activist broke through the police cordon briefly and slapped down banners calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals before he was seized by police.
There is little public acceptance of homosexuality in predominantly Orthodox Ukraine, as in other former Soviet republics. On May 17, large crowds of protesters broke up gay rights rallies in Georgia and Russia.
The march in Kyiv lasted only 40 minutes but was considered a small victory for the former Soviet republic's gay community.
A year ago, gay activists canceled plans for a rally in Kyiv, saying they had received threats of violence. One would-be organizer was beaten up by a group of men the same day.
Organizers hailed the march on Saturday as a breakthrough.
“This event will go down in the history of Ukraine as one of the key developments in the fight for equal human rights,” said Olena Semenova, one of the organizers, expressing gratitude to the police and the authorities for their actions.
Against all odds
The rally almost did not materialize when city authorities raised security concerns and a court issued an order to ban it.
But on Saturday police offered protection to the small march, held away from the city center.
Church activist Oksana Keresten, who protested against the rally, said: “We are trying to protect family values. We want to protect our children from homosexual propaganda. This parade popularizes homosexuality. It can influence our children for their whole life.”
At the end of the rally, the gay activists stepped retreated to a local film studio and climbed onto buses that drove them away, avoiding the risk of further confrontation.
Ukraine's parliament last year shelved the second reading of a bill that would have criminalized the “promotion of homosexuality”. But it has also delayed passing legislation to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace.