The war in Ukraine has led some LGBTI rights activists to expand their scope of action, but the historic tug-of-war over the visibility of the group continues in the region, which complicates the task of personalities like Olena Shevchenko.
ILGA World executive board member Olena Shevchenko has extended the work of Insight , an organization she founded and directs dedicated to the fight for LGBTI rights in Ukraine , to the distribution of food and resources during the war. A difficult job due to the critical position of society in the region towards the collective, but which has earned her entry into TIME's list of '12 women of the year' for 2023.
A bit of history
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Ukraine in 1991 , when it belonged to the USSR and under the Soviet Penal Code. In fact, it was called "sodomy" and until then the penal code criminalized same-sex relationships with up to 5 years in prison. Despite the decriminalization - and the transition to its own Penal Code in 2001 - society and culture did not progress in the same way and attacks on people who are members of the LGBTIQ group are known . In the latest map of LGBTI rights in the world drawn up by ILGA Europe, Ukraine falls behind due to a lack of institutional policies .
In fact, in 2012, some MPs in Ukraine promoted different proposals to ban "propaganda" regarding same-sex relationships for minors, which directly affected sex education . Finally, the parliamentary debate was not carried out, but it should be taken into account that the proposal was promoted by deputies of the party that was in government at the time.
In 2019, some Ukrainian cities banned public LGBTI demonstrations , although in 2020 these bans were invalidated by the Administrative Court. In 2020 - in the same line as the parliamentary initiatives promoted in 2012 - another bill was presented on "administrative crimes on responsibility for propagating homosexuality and transgenderism to minors" which also fell through.
Thus the debate on LGBTIQ rights in Ukraine is a debate that is alive and in danger of retreating, given that despite being legal it has few areas of social protection and the movements and activities against the recognition of rights are quite considerable.
Olena Shevchenko is one of the current members of the executive board of ILGA World (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association). In 2008, she founded the Kiev-based Insight organization, an entity that defines itself as "a Ukrainian public organization whose core values are freedom, feminism, equality, inclusion and diversity for all groups social ".
As president of the organization, Shevchenko supports women and LGBTIQ people, a task that has become more complicated during the war . Last February marked one year since Ukraine was at war with Russia, and Insight has added to its vindictive work a distribution of food and basic supplies , where criticism has not been lacking: in one of the missions of collection of supplies in Poland, Shevchenko was attacked with the cry "You pervert, get out of our country". And the aversion to LGTBIQ people in the region is high and attacks are frequent and they are in a situation of high vulnerability.
However, Shevchenko's work on behalf of wartime vulnerable groups and LGTBIQ rights and recognition of diversity is in the public domain. In fact, she has been recognized as one of the 12 women considered extraordinary leaders in 2023 by the renowned TIME magazine.
This is an important fact for organizations in favor of LGTBIQ rights in Ukraine, Europe and the world, because it works as a speaker . This is how Shevchenko expressed it in a tweet: “I had the privilege of giving a speech at the TIME awards ceremony. For all those women of Ukraine, who are silenced and invisible heroines ”.