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Ukraine holds its first large-scale LGBT pride parade

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Sergei Chuzavkov

(Read caption) Ukrainian police stand along a street to protect gay pride march in Kiev

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Nearly a thousand people with rainbow flags took to the streets, under the protection of several thousand police, in Ukraine's first major gay pride parade in Kiev this Sunday.

Western diplomats joined with gay rights activists, some wearing the European Union flags, others in national Ukrainian dress, and this year with support from Ukrainian authorities. Nine streets and one subway station were blocked off, though a few nonviolent antigay activists got through to the parade. Although right-wing groups had threatened attacks, the parade was mostly peaceful.

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"The road to equality in Ukraine is difficult as well as dangerous," said Bohdan Hloba, an organizer of the parade. "We have been threatened with a 'bloodbath' but every step of this march gives us hope."

After a pro-Western government came to power following the 2014 Maidan protests, Ukrainian authorities have been more supportive of the LGBT rights movement, despite the country's widespread lack of support for gay rights.

Among those marching was Judith Gough, the United Kingdom's ambassador to Ukraine.

Radical ultra-nationalist activists watched the parade from outside the security border, where riot police stood. They shouted "get out" and threw pamphlets that said "Stop LGBT Propaganda," but they were unable to disperse the parade as they had threatened.

"The authorities committed a crime by allowing this march to take place," said Mykola Kokhanivsky, a nationalist leader. "And [the gay activists'] behavior is a crime against the normal Ukrainian citizen."

"I'm against gay propaganda that these sick people have organized here in collusion with authorities," said antigay activist Serhiy Hashchenko, holding a poster that said "Ukraine is no Sodom."

Khatiya Dekanoizdze, Ukrainian police chief, said that 57 people had been detained before and during the rally and that the police were following the ultra-nationalist groups.

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In 2015, Kiev's gay pride march was canceled less than 30 minutes before it began, after right-wing antigay activists used smoke grenades to shoot at participants.

"There is even stronger political backing than last year," said Rebecca Harms, a German member of the European Parliament (MEP). "You need equal rights for everybody in a democratic society, and sexual orientation cannot be a reason to exclude people from their rights."

Last year, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a law banning discrimination against gay people in the workplace. It was one of a package of laws necessary for Ukraine to qualify for a European Union visa-free travel agreement. To get skeptics on board, Volodymyr Groysman, then Speaker of the parliament, now Prime Minister, said Ukraine would never support same-sex marriage.

Still, the heavy police presence at the parade on Sunday was indicative of changes in Ukraine since Maidan, said lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko. "EuroMaidan was not only against [former President Viktor] Yanukovich, it was against corruption and for human rights, as well."