Ukraine's LGBTQ+ community fights for freedom on the frontline

·2 min read

Kyiv Pride was never supposed to be held outside of Ukraine's capital, but among the rainbow flags at Warsaw Pride in neighboring Poland, Ukraine's ubiquitous blue and yellow stood out.

"I'm here because I can't go to Pride in Ukraine," one participant said. "We're all people regardless of who you love."

Central Europe's biggest Pride march kept a focus on Ukraine's fight against Russia, as well as its LGBTQ+ community's fight for equal rights.

Some LGBTQ Ukrainians fear human rights abuses if Russia stays: "We will fight"

Victor Pylypenko, who is gay and serves as a medic on the frontline in Donetsk, is the founder of Ukraine's "Union of the LGBT+ Military," which counts thousands of members.

"We're all equal here," Pylypenko told CBS News' Ramy Inocencio. "We are fighting for freedom of our country."

Many of Pylpypenko's colleagues have died by his side. He says he's never felt discrimination, and that it's important to be out as a gay man.

"Because openness changes things, changes attitude," he said.

There is still a long way to go in terms of changing attitudes in Ukraine. Nearly one in two Ukrainians reports feeling negatively about the gay community. That proportion is decreasing among younger people. The more religious and more pro-Russian areas of the country are the least tolerant.

"Russia didn't leave any option for us. Like, you can't protect human rights in Ukraine without a gun now," Borys Milewski told CBS News from Kyiv's bohemian, gay-friendly Podil district. He was waiting for orders to return to the frontlines.

Milewski has fought against Russia since the war started — not for land, money, or even gay rights, he said.

"It's my personal freedom. It's my need to live in a free country with democracy," Milewski said.

Milewski told CBS News that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has unified the country against Russia's war, and that Ukraine's LGBTQ+ community is hopeful about both a hate crimes bill and same sex civil union bill now on the table.

Meanwhile, on the frontline in eastern Ukraine, Pylypenko said his country can't afford to lose the war.

"It will be a complete disaster… Putin's ideology is homophobia, so disrespect towards human rights," he said.

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