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Ukraine: Take Decisive Action to End Hate-Motivated Disruption of Civil Society Events
Following the violent interruption of a civil society event on LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“A peaceful human rights event was once against violently interrupted, this time in Kharkiv,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The perpetrators, who regularly disrupt events on LGBT rights and gender issues, are well known and repeatedly use violence against others, yet they have not been held accountable by Ukraine’s justice system. These disruptions will only escalate unless Ukrainian law enforcement authorities, including the National Police and prosecutors, take decisive action to protect civil society. Despite the offenders’ brazen aggression, the organizers were able to continue the event. Denying extremists the ability to halt the gathering was a victory for the organizers, and a sign that, in spite of setbacks, Ukrainian civil society is transforming the country into a more democratic and tolerant home for everyone.”
Approximately ten young men, many wearing black clothing bearing a neo-Nazi symbol, forced their way into the private event space on May 17. The intruders, who were repeatedly told to leave, announced that the event was over and proceeded to churn out hateful rhetoric against LGBT people to those present. They broadcast their actions on a Facebook livestream, in an apparent attempt to promote themselves and their discriminatory ideology. The intruders proclaimed that they represented Freikorps, a group with a presence in Kharkiv that took the name of a German right-wing paramilitary group active in the 20th century; and Tradition and Order, a neofascist group whose leaders self-identify as “national socialists.” Many of the intruders wore clothing featuring the Wolfsangel symbol, which was widely used by the German Nazi Party’s SS forces. The groups have repeatedly committed similar violent intrusions in Kharkiv.
National Police officers arrived 30 minutes after the disruption began. However, in consultation with the organizers and in the interest of preventing violence, the police and hotel security did not remove the perpetrators.
Similar incidents regularly occur in other Ukrainian cities, including, in just the past six weeks, in Kyiv (April 11), Mykolayiv (May 2), Chernivtsi (May 17), and Kryvyi Rih (May 18).
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.