Ukraine: Why Metro is supporting Kyiv Pride this Pride month


Kyiv Pride

Metro is fundraising for Kyiv Pride, the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ helping the community survive the conflict (Picture: Instagram/Kyiv Pride/@dr.livese)

Lenny Emson could have left Ukraine months ago.

Though he identifies as bigender, his passport still says ‘F’ for female, meaning martial law does not prevent him from leaving.

When his wife asked him to go to Canada, he said no.

When the invading army was within a few miles of the capital and millions were heading for the border, he stayed put.

‘My team is in Kyiv’, he said. ‘They all stayed. We all made this decision to stay and serve our community and serve our country.’

The organisation he leads, Kyiv Pride, is engaged in a daily battle to ensure the LGBTQ+ community survives Vladimir Putin’s illegal war.

Metro is teaming up with them this Pride month to support the work they do helping vulnerable people across Ukraine. You can donate to their cause here.

This year, its 10th birthday, should be a celebration for its activists and the people it supports, marked by a march of thousands through its home city.

Instead, Kyiv is under wartime restrictions, the community is facing a crisis and the annual demonstration is having to be held in 400 miles away in Warsaw. 


Kyiv Pride march

Thousands marched through Kyiv for LGBTQ+ rights in 2021 but the city is a very different place 12 months later (Picture: Reuters)

Much of the campaigning and advocacy efforts the organisation undertakes had to be put on the back burner when the renewed assault began on February 24. 

For now, only matters of life and death matter.

Lenny said: ‘The war made us reorganise our work completely. 

‘The biggest need of the community in the context of the Russian invasion is to get some help. 

‘We needed to help them to survive first of all.’

Kyiv Pride recently opened a new shelter which provides emergency accommodation to LGBTQ+ people left homeless or penniless by the fighting, especially for those with families who do not accept them.

They have provided food, money and support to people who have no one else to turn to, with around 70 people helped so far.

Before the new shelter opened, that meant crashing in their office. Now they have a dedicated centre with five members of staff that can accommodate 20 people at a time.


Lenny Emson

Lenny Emson is a veteran of Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ movement and runs Kyiv Pride (Picture: Kyiv Pride)

Gay and trans rights have a come a long way in Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union but there is still much more to do.

Lenny said: ‘When I was a student at university, I was almost arrested for kissing my girlfriend in the street. 

‘But 10 years after that, I see people behaving more freely, 20 years after that see young girls holding hands in the street and not being afraid of anything.

‘I believe this is big progress.’

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ukraine in 1991 and its first campaigning groups came into official existence in 1993. 

Since 2014, when the Euromaidan revolution swept away a pro-Moscow government in favour of closer ties to Europe, things have started to move more quickly.

A year later, the Ukrainian government launched a new human rights charter with a goal to banish discrimination. A year after that, new rules allowing trans people to change their gender status more freely came into force.


Kyiv Pride march

Ukrainian Pride groups have had to halt their advocacy efforts but they are continuing to support people on the ground (Picture: AFP)

A draft bill on same-sex marriage didn’t get through parliament but Lenny didn’t see this is as a failure.

‘We are talking to the Ukrainian government now’, he said, ‘and they are talking to us’.

But any hope of further legal breakthroughs have been snuffed out by the war, with Ukraine’s state consumed by an existential battle for its future. 

A crucial piece of legislation defining hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people that Lenny and other activists had pushed hard for is in limbo.

This, he says, is a perfect example of why victory is essential for the good of his community, a war he says that is ‘not just a war for Ukraine, it’s a war for human rights’.

There is still fierce opposition to the movement inside the country from a minority, including from far right groups, which Lenny believes are ‘financed from Russia’.

With this capability, they are able to transport their activists around the country, menacing Pride demonstrations everywhere.


Kyiv Pride

Kyiv Pride recently opened a shelter to provide a place to stay for up to 20 people with no where else to go during a turbulent time for the country (Picture: Kyiv Pride)

He told Metro: ‘There are not that many of them if you look at Ukraine as a bigger picture but they are very active. 

‘They are very violent, they attack pretty much all LGBTQ+ activities. 

‘What they do is far from non-violent protest – they attack our people, they use pepper spray, they beat people up. 

‘We have been fighting them for years, this Tom and Jerry cat and mouse play.’

The hate crime bill would have introduced harsher punishment for their actions.

Until the war is over, it is unlikely to pass.

Pro-Putin and far right groups have pushed a narrative that LGBTQ+ fled Ukraine ‘fled like rats’, Lenny said, but the truth could not be further from the truth.

He says Western media focuses tends to focus on the stories of people from the community who left their country.

In reality, the majority have stayed and play an active part in supporting Ukraine through the crisis.

Lenny said: ‘This is a great outcome out of this terrible situation, that Ukraine sees that we are here, that we are all together and that people who could leave the country decided to stay and service the community. 

‘This is our little victory. As a movement we have never been more united than the moment when this war came to our door.’



Help us raise £10k for Kyiv Pride and a UK LGBT+ charity

To celebrate 50 years of Pride, Metro.co.uk has teamed up with Kyiv Pride to raise money for their important work in Ukraine.

Despite war raging around them, Kyiv Pride continue to help LGBTQ+ people, offering those in need shelter, food and psychological support.

We will be splitting the cash with a grassroots charity closer to home.

You can donate here

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.



Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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