On the June 17 episode of The Final Word, Abby Hughes spoke with the Ukrainian-Canadian who’s set up a fund to divert tens of thousands of dollars to LGBTQ+ charities in Ukraine. She also heard from Andrii Zarytskyi, a queer Ukrainian and LGBTQ activist who recently came to Canada, who talks about the realities for queer people in wartime Ukraine
Since war broke out in Ukraine in February, Andrew Kushnir—a Ukrainian-Canadian playwright—has raised over $58,000 to help provide shelter, sanitary products, medication and more to queer folks in Ukraine. Kushnir set up the We Support LGBTQ+ Ukraine Fund, which garners donations and distributes them to six queer charities on the ground in Ukraine.
The fund has collected $58,000 so far, and Kushner says there is an additional $20,000 in pending donations.
Just before the conflict broke out, Kushnir says LGBTQ+ inclusion and protective legislation were making big gains.
“It depends on where you are in Ukraine,” said Kushnir. “If you’re living in a village as a queer person, you’re likely closeted, but there’s certainly a really vibrant queer movement in the larger cities.”
“Ukraine was on the cusp of passing some very significant anti-hate crime bills nationwide.”
According to Kushnir, when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the focus became less about advocacy and more about survival.
“The deep fear is that folks who are outed or discovered to be queer will face things like detention or worse,” said Kushnir. “I know in the early days of this war there were many queer people in Ukraine that were erasing their phones of any messages from gay friends, queer friends, erasing photos of them and their partners, doing what they can to basically scrub their technology of their queer identity for fear of being caught by Russian forces.”
Andrii Zarytskyi works for LIGA, an organization based in the city of Mykolaiv that supports, protects and advocates for LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine. Zarytskyi recently came to Canada.
Though he says LIGA has contributed to progress for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians through their activism, the organization itself has faced a lot of pushback over the years.
“Hate crimes in Ukraine, that’s something that commonly happens.” said Zarytskyi. “It wasn’t easy being an LGBTQ activist or even just an LGBTQ person in Ukraine.”
A number of queer Ukrainians are fighting on the front lines, and in a round-a-bout way, according to Zarytskyi, this has improved some people’s perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community. He says that being united in the same fight for democracy has made some non-LGBTQ Ukrainians realize their similarities to queer folks.
Zarytskyi still works for LIGA remotely, providing support in whatever way he can. The group’s main focus is securing safety for LGBTQ+ people who remain in Ukraine.
Want more? Hear the full story, and others, on The Final Word from June 17, 2022. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music.