Despite threats, BuzzFeed reports that a small scuffle between police and the ultra-nationalists and flag burning were the only major disturbances at the event being hailed as more celebratory in recent years.
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“This is more than just pride,” volunteer Maxim Eristavi told NPR. “This is a big political event for so many countries in the region that is trying to escape the colonial orbit of Russia, and move back to the European family.” He added that police protecting rather than opposing the pride parade signals a social shift in the country, which comes on the heels of widely reported — and condemned — allegations that gay men are being tortured in Russia’s southern republic Chechnya.
“Even for regular Ukrainians who don’t understand the equality battle, or the concept of queer rights,” he said. “To see that in such a tense environment law enforcement was able to perform on such a high level, it’s a good symbol of developing reforms in the country.”
The atmosphere is a staunch departure from 2015 festivities that saw 25-30 “hooligans” attack parade marchers, according to a Reuters writeup. During the 2015 violence, BuzzFeed reports that nationalists threw lit flares and smoke grenades at police.
But anti-gay violence still persists, however. Just last month, assailants attacked gay and transgender rights activists and torched a rainbow flag at a small rally in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Despite this violence, Eristavi says Sunday’s celebration remains a happy milestone.
“Eastern Europe is a horrible place to be a queer person,” Eristavi said. “This is by far the biggest pride event in the eastern European history. Seeing such a big crowd… it’s a very good day for eastern Europe in general.”
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