On Saturday, a crowd of around 100 people donning colorful flower crowns and waving bright blue and yellow flags gathered at Stonewall Inn in support of Ukraine and its LGBTQ+ community in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
The group, many of whom held up cardboard signs, some reading “queer love stops Putin” and “404 NATO not found,” chanted “hands off Ukraine” in front of the historic gay bar two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops and tanks to cross the Russia’s western boarder.
Protester Ilya Rabil, who was born in Ukraine, said his family is stuck in the capital of Kyiv. His father recently underwent a spinal surgery and is unable to walk, leaving Rabil’s parents trapped in their own home as war breaks out around them.
“I haven’t slept for the last three nights, I haven’t eaten anything, and I’m just trying to be in touch with them,” Rabil said. “But I can actually see from their windows the bombs. [Russia’s] attacking and shooting outside. This is insane.”
As Russian attacks intensified, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged both civilians and the Ukrainian military to take up arms, working together to fend off Russian forces.
Within the ranks of the Ukrainian military lies a large LGBTQ+ presence, which has aided greatly in the effort to push back on Russian advances. When Russian-backed separatists attacked eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainian army accepted new recruits, many of which were gay and transgender.
“There’s a big LGBTQ community in Ukraine that is part of the army,” Polina Buchak who is originally from Kyiv, said. “They’re volunteers, they’re working on the ground to help support our nation and keep everybody safe, so we need to stand with them to support them.”
Buchak said she attended the protest not only in support of Ukraine and her family, but also in solidarity with the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community.
Over the past two decades, Ukraine has made strides towards creating a safer environment for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2015, the country passed labor laws that did not allow employers to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.
Protestor Tyler Power, who wore multicolor clothing and sparkly glitter eyeshadow, said they worry for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians who may have to enter less accepting countries as refugees.
“I don’t know the LGBTQIA status of the surrounding countries, but I do fear for all the people who have no choice where they seek refuge,” Power said. “I feel horrible that they have no option and that they’re going to be at the mercy of whoever will receive them.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, since Feb. 24, more than 4.6 million refugees have entered Poland, one of Ukraine’s neighboring countries. Poland, like Ukraine, does not legally recognize same-sex relationships and does not allow for same-sex couples to adopt. Russia banned same-sex marriage in 2021.
“I’m not just sad for Ukraine, I’m sad for the world today,” Power said. “I am here to be colorful and to show pride for all those people that do not have that right right now.”