KyivPride director Lenny Emson wasn’t in Ukraine when Russian troops invaded the country in February. But as the bigender LGBTQ rights activist told Go Magazine at the time, it felt like s_he was.
“I feel it very much,” s_he said. Emson has kept in touch with other members of Kyiv Pride, which “aims at contributing to full respect for human rights for LGBT+ in Ukraine.”
S_he has also been working tirelessly to help get them out of harm’s way. As Emson told LGBT+ radio station GlitterBeam, “We understand that LGBT people will be the first target for Russia.”
???? The director of @KyivPride Lenny Emson has urged the West to provide “international political support” for Ukraine.
?? "We understand that LGBT people will be the first target for Russia," the Ukrainian activist, told #LGBTQ+ radio @GlitterBeamU. pic.twitter.com/uDBnxfUDAi
— Openly ???? (@Openly) February 25, 2022
More recently, Emson, who uses s_he/him/his pronouns, has been warning the world that his country’s queer population will be “erased” if eastern Ukraine remains under Russian occupation.
“We have volunteers and activists disappearing and we don’t know if they’re okay,” s_he told Metro.co.uk earlier this month. “We don’t know whether it’s just a connection issue or if something has happened to them. The situation is very hard right now.”
Emson has been vocal about the strides Ukraine’s LGBTQ community has made over the past 30 years. Last year, 7,000 people gathered for KyivPride, s_he told PrideSource in March.
Compare that to Emson’s bleak prognosis for LGBTQ people under Russian occupation: “It’s not possible to be LGBTQ+ in Russia, especially if you are Ukrainian. … If there is even a suspicion if they are connected to LGBTQ+ they will ‘disappear in the basement’, as people in occupied territories say, and nobody will know what happened to you in this basement. You could be raped, you could be killed, you could be tortured.”
Emson has pointed those of us outside of Ukraine to KyivePride’s Facebook page, which features a list of organizations to which we can donate.
“These organizations right now, they are concentrating their efforts in different parts of Ukraine. So KyivPride, we work nationally. We help all people all over Ukraine. We help people with money for food and relocation, and we have transportation means organized by different organizations,” s_he told PrideSource in March.
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Of course, KyivPride’s tenth anniversary Equality March had to be canceled this year due to the occupation. But the organization is partnering with Poland’s WarsawPride to stage a march for peace this month.
“On June 25 we are not celebrating,” Emson said in a statement posted to the group’s Facebook page. “We want to appeal to the whole world: help Ukraine win! Help Ukrainian people live freely on their land!”
As Western leaders debate negotiations with Vladimir Putin, Emson insists that a compromise with the Russian dictator isn’t enough.
“When politicians talk about surrender and giving territories to Putin, they do not think about this ‘small detail,’” s_he’s said. “They do not think about the destiny of people in these territories, the minorities who will be punished for who they are.”
Emson’s firm challenge to the rest of the world remains the same: “What are you doing to stop this right now? What are you doing to support our human rights?”