World

LGBTQ soldiers in Ukraine hope their service is changing attitudes as they rally for legal rights

KYIV, Ukraine — (AP) — Several hundred LGBTQ Ukrainian servicemen and their supporters marched in central Kyiv Sunday to demand more rights and highlight their service to their country in its war with Russia.

The servicemembers — many wearing rainbow and unicorn patches on their uniforms — called on the government to grant them official partnership rights. They described the event as a pride march but it did not have the celebratory atmosphere of peacetime events and took place in the rain and under a heavy police guard amid threats from counterprotesters.

The role of LGBTQ members in the military has been credited with shifting public attitudes toward same-sex partnerships in the socially conservative country.

“We are ordinary people who are fighting on an equal footing with everyone else, but deprived of the rights that other people have,” Dmitriy Pavlov, an army soldier who used a cane to walk, told The Associated Press.

Campaigners are seeking legal reforms to allow people in same-sex partnerships to take medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war that extended across Ukraine more than two years ago.

They argue that an improvement in gay rights would create a further distinction between Ukraine and Russia, where LGBTQ rights are severely restricted.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy and several European embassies attended the pride rally.

Organizers had faced difficulties in organizing the rally. City authorities turned down a petition to allow it to be held at a metro station, and it was condemned by one of the main branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“This action is part of a left-wing radical political movement and is aimed at imposing a political ideology, and also aimed at destroying the institution of the family and weakening Ukrainian society in the conditions of war and repelling Russian aggression,” the church said in a statement.

Police set up cordons in central Kyiv to keep the marchers clear of a counterdemonstration, ushering protesters into a central metro station at the end of the event.

Protesters in the counterdemonstration, some wearing face masks and carrying anti-gay signs, marched to a memorial for fallen soldiers in the center of the city.

An injured soldier, in Kyiv for physical therapy, said he attended the counter rally out of concern that divisive societal issues should not be raised during the war.

“I came because I think its not the right time for LGBT (activism),” said the soldier, who asked to be identified by his call sign “Archy.”

“We need to strengthen our country.”

Both those on the LGBTQ rally and the counterprotest took the opportunity to demand that foreign countries come to Ukraine’s aid in its war with Russia, chanting “Arm Ukraine now!” ___ Dmytro Zhyhinas in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed.

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