In an interview with myGwork’s Pepi Sappal, Lenny Emson, Executive Director of KyivPride, has urged the international community not to give up on Ukraine as the war with Russia drags on.
The world expected Ukraine to be occupied in two days says, Lenny. "We Ukrainians have fought back and we’re now a month into the war, and we will continue to fight," he stresses.
"We ask the international community not to give up and not get tired or bored with the current situation. Continue to support us by going to protests and rallies, and showing up with Ukrainian flags to remind society of the world that Ukraine is still in danger."
Russia is "waiting for everyone to get tired of the war, so that it can take over," remarks Lenny. "This cannot be allowed to happen. If the world allows Russia to eat Ukraine, then who is next? Moldova, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania? I don't think the world wants to play this game, so we urge you to fight with us."
Most Ukrainians, like Lenny, believe stronger international action is needed to pressure Russian forces to leave Ukraine. "Sanctions against Russia are vital to stop them financing this war. I know that NATO issued a statement to say that it was impossible to close the sky, but that doesn't help us because we don't know which house will be bombed next.
"Will it be a neighbor’s house or a friend's home? What we really need right now is protection from what's falling from the sky."
According to the latest UN statistics, at least 1,400 civilians have died so far and more than 10 million people have been displaced amid the invasion. The damage to Ukraine's infrastructure is already estimated at $63 billion and is likely to increase much more unless a resolution is reached at peace talks scheduled for later this week in Turkey.
Despite the fact that Kyiv – where Lenny is based – is heavily protected he says, "we can hear artillery and shelling every day, which is scary for us all. All our lives are in danger."
"It doesn't matter what your sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or age, we all experience a threat to our lives daily. Every night, Russians bomb our cities. It's like Russian roulette. You don’t know which house will be hit next."
There is now "no city of Mariupol," he adds. "There are dead bodies in its streets and locals cannot bury their dead and give them a proper funeral because of non-stop bombing by the Russians. This unbelievable situation needs to be stopped."
LGBTQ+ organisations and charities, like KyivPride, are particularly active in speaking up and looking after communities that remain, despite the risk and threats they face.
"If Russia takes over not only does the LGBTQ+ community face huge danger, but we’re likely to be erased, along with 30 years of our hard work fighting for LGBTQ+ rights," Lenny warns.
Lenny described LGBTQ+ progress in Ukraine before Russia’s invasion as "tremendous."
"Homosexuality was decriminalized in Ukraine in 1991. And in 1996, the first LGBTQ+ organisation was registered in Ukraine. Today, we have over 20 LGBTQ+ organisations, and almost all regions of Ukraine have LGBTQ+ centers. So the community is growing. We also have a vibrant trans movement that has seen progress in trans rights."
Despite being very young "it’s already very strong," Lenny says. "Every year, we have Pride marches in several cities of Ukraine, and this is significant progress for us."
Just before the Russian invasion, KyivPride was working on anti-hate crime laws and was getting ready to talk with the government on equal marriage. "We had the bill already developed and we wanted to present it to parliament," shares Lenny.
"Of course, all this progress will be threatened if Russia succeeds to occupy Ukraine. Everything will be erased, including our community. That's why we need help right now to stop them. If Russia invades, there will be no LGBTQ+ people."
If Russia succeeds, "we know that we will be the first target for death or torture, Lenny continues. "So we need this war to stop. We need Russians to leave our country and leave us alone."
Although some of Lenny’s team have had to leave Ukraine because of the dangerous circumstances, he says "the majority of our community is still here in Ukraine and we need to help them. Of course, many that could flee the country did. But realistically we can’t evacuate all 44 million Ukrainians. We also need to stay and fight, and we need international help."
KyivPride is involved with several initiatives to help the Ukrainian community at large, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. "By partnering with organisations like Gay Alliance, KyivPride is organising shelters where people can stay when they come to Kyiv from other towns on the outskirts of Kyiv and other cities, where the situation is very dangerous.
"LGBTQ+ organisations have also helped to open safe shelters across western Ukraine, and in other regions across the country like Odesa, to help people fleeing from occupied regions or cities that have been bombed,” Lenny explains.
Of course, these shelters provide a safe place for Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community. "This is very important right now because unfortunately, the community is trying to stay invisible from people who could potentially be violent toward them and cause them harm," highlights Lenny. "Providing peer-to-peer psychological support is also hugely important."
With the help of charitable organisations, these shelters are also trying to ensure food, water, and medication for everyone, but the country is running out of many basic supplies.
"It’s a really tough situation right now. Many people have no food, no medications, and supplies are running out fast in many towns."
According to Lenny, the availability of much-needed supplies really depends on which district people are in. "Even towns just three to five kilometers from the city centre are struggling with supplies. Grocery stores have huge queues, and we are experiencing a shortage of food like bread, meats, and other fundamental basics.
"Access to medications is also becoming a problem. You cannot find medicines, from basic medication to hormones for trans people, because pharmacy shelves are running empty."
Speaking not just to LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but to the wider society, Lenny's message is: "We’re really grateful for your support so far. I want the community to know that we really appreciate all the donations and kind messages of support.
"Knowing that we're not alone in this is what keeps us going. Please continue to support us and don’t give up on us now."
Lenny believes the international public and LGBTQ+ community have been hugely supportive of Ukraine. "By standing up for Ukraine and joining rallies for Ukraine, civil society has helped move things and actually made politicians change their minds to take action and help.
"The international public has already helped Ukraine’s cause through donating, offering their homes, picking up people from the border, supporting those staying in the country, as well as spreading the word on social media, and putting pressure on politicians to help Ukraine.
"Civil society activists have convinced politicians to donate military and humanitarian support to Ukraine. It’s vital to continue this support."
You can help to provide urgent humanitarian aid needed in Ukraine by donating to charitable organisations, such as KyivPride, Global Giving, OutRight International, Just Giving and Gay Alliance Ukraine.