KHARKIV, Ukraine — On September 15, the Ukranian city of Kharkiv held its first-ever LGBTQ parade. Despite the protests of the city mayor, Gennady Kernes, who reportedly threatened to seek a judicial decision to not authorize the pride, the action started peacefully at the central Svobody square. Upon the arrival of the march to its final destination of Konstitutsii square, however, the participants saw a gathering of ultra-right groups waiting for them. When the march began dissolving, the rightwing agitators began chasing and beating the participants of the march.
As the chaos ensured, Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich had a choice to film or to protect lives: after capturing a number of photographs of a brutal attack, he rescued a participant of the march who was about to be savagely kicked by representatives of an aggressive ultra-right group.
Photographer Andrew Kravchenko, a direct witness of the violent action, managed to film Garanich’s resistance to the attackers from at arm’s length.
Kravchenko tells Hyperallergic:
When the participants of the march arrived at the Shevchenko park, around 300 aggressive men, most of them from the ultra-right group ‘Frei Korps’ already waited for them […] They started attacking some of the participants, young people and teenagers, and beating them down on the ground. It was horrible, to see how groups of well-trained aggressive men chased unprotected, unarmed LGBT supporters.
“A group of more than ten adult men surrounded a boy of maybe 14 to 16 years old and started to punch him laying on the ground when Garanich intervened,” he continues., “[Garanich] pushed out this small guy from the circle, led him some meters away […] I thought they would break his camera, you know, it is always the biggest threat for a photographer, but Gleb managed to handle them, and they stepped back.”
Garanich told the publication RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty that he chose to step in “because there was a serious threat to [the teenager’s] life.”
Kravchenko suggests that nearly 2,000 police surrounded the scene (during last year’s LGBTQ march in Kyiv, over 5,000 officers were present). He called their efforts to stop the violence “ineffective, saying that “they walked around the park in large groups, without active intervention.” As a result of the confrontation, 17 people were arrested, and two policemen were blasted by tear gas sprayed by the ultra-right during the detention.
Violent suppression of LGBTQ parades by extreme rightwing groups is not uncommon for Ukraine. Between 2012 and 2016, similar incidents were recorded in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Although in recent years, the pride went on relatively peacefully, after prominent politicians and public personalities joined the march in 2017, in order to show their solidarity with the LGBTQ community, there were still some individual confrontations during and following the event.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Kravchenko said that he has photographed LGBTQ marches “since they began in Ukraine .” He explains, “I can see positive dynamics in Kyiv, where the public support and the training of the police finally helped overcome the possibility of a similar situation that we could see in Kharkiv … It comes with the time, the possibility of a peaceful pride, but the threat always remains.”