Published: 19 Dec 2018 | By Olena Shevchenko
Standing up in the face of discrimination and hate crime
Views from a Ukrainian activist on International Women’s Day 2018
8th March is a very significant day for us as women and members of the LGBTQI+ community. Every year we organise rallies to support women’s rights, and 2018 was no exception. This year we decided to bring together women from different social backgrounds. The organising committee of the women’s march included Insight (which provides support at all levels to LGBTQI+ people), the CHIRICLI Fund for Roma Women, Fight for Right (for women with disabilities), and Legalife (which represents sex-workers as well as HIV-positive women). This year’s rally – about which we had notified the authorities two weeks in advance, and had discussed with them beforehand – was the largest, uniting nearly 2000 women, marching through Kyiv’s centre. However, from the very beginning of the rally, we encountered far-right groups, who were trying to stop us. Members of groups such as C14, Right Sector (Правий сектор/Правый сектор), the National Corps (Національні дружини /Национальные дружины) and Tradition and Order (Традиція і порядок/Традиция и порядок) attacked us several times. The police were fully aware of our rally, and yet they did not take steps to protect us and to ensure that we could walk, or maintain a cordon between us and the counter-protesters. No one was arrested for these attacks. The far-right groups took our banners away and ripped them apart, as well as firing tear gas at us. The main incident happened during the final protest in front of the City State Administration: a group of men wearing Nazi symbols took banners from female participants. Rather than stopping them, the police made us move the place of our gathering to an area where there was no escape route, except through a metro station, which allowed the counterprotesters space to physically attack us.
A couple of minutes later, several police officers approached me and asked me to go with them to a police station, where my lawyer and I spent about three hours. The police had drawn up a report which stated that I had committed an administrative violation of the order of conduct of public demonstrations (which does not exist), with regards to a banner that I had brought to the march, which they claimed insulted the Ukrainian coat of arms. The banner (pictured) depicts a woman suffering various forms of violence: economic (signified by a coin), physical (rope), religious (cross), and far-right oppression (the symbol of National Corps, which resembles the Ukrainian crest). I was threatened with a criminal conviction for insulting the national symbols of Ukraine, which carries a penalty of three to five years in prison.