On Thursday morning at about 5 am, a group of five Ukrainian gay friends came out of a nightclub and stopped by a bench on the central avenue of Khreshchatyk in Kiev to have a smoke and chat.
They did not kiss, they did not hug. The friends were dressed in hip and colorful summer clothes.
There have been dozens of homophobic attacks in Ukraine in the past year, and another was about to unfold in the heart of the country's capital.
Three drunk young men approached the friends, yelling: “Faggots! Look at your clothes! You should join the army, go to the front, like our fathers do, so the war turns you into real men!”
One of the gay men, 22-year-old Yevgeny Ogurtsov, was wearing a colorful T-shirt tucked in a pair of checked pants. His friend, 20-year-old Vlad Yezdakov, also was wearing a pair of hip pants with “Be the one who you want to be” written on them. Ogurtskov tried to calm down the attackers in vain: the strangers were heated by their hate.
To avoid an escalation of the violence, the gay friends tried to walk away but the attackers followed them. One of them pulled out a jackknife and stabbed Ogurtsov several times in the chest.
“I saw how Yevgeny fell down on the ground, but the thugs continued to kick him in the face,” Yezdakov told The Daily Beast on Friday.
“I was not ready to see such brutal violence, I was too shocked to do anything, so I was just standing there watching and then we called for police and for the ambulance,” Yezdakov remembered, still having trouble to believe that he came so close to losing his friend right in the center of his hometown, which he considered cosmopolitan and liberal.
Eventually, police arrested the attackers, who insisted that they had not done anything wrong, that the gay men deserved to be punished. Two were 17 years old, the one who stabbed Ogurtsov was 20. No charges have yet been bought against the attackers.
On Friday, Ogurtsov was recovering from two surgeries on his stabbed lungs.
“Ukraine should treat the attack on me as a serious precedent of homophobia. This is very important for our future, for putting the end to violence,” Ogurtsov told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.
It will take weeks before Ogurtsov, a professional model, will be able to work again. ”The thugs who stabbed me yelled that we, gays, did not deserve to live. I have no doubts that they came to kill us,” he said.
Since the EuroMaidan revolution of 2014, Ukrainian civil society has experienced ups and downs.
Only a few years ago, in 2013, Ukrainian LGBT people organized their first Pride; people who lived in the closet before the revolution opened up, united in communities, and began to speak out about painful episodes in their lives, which they had buried inside for years.
This week, an International Monetary Fund mission arrived in Ukraine to continue working on a $17 billion loan program that the IMF has approved for Kiev on the condition that Ukraine reforms its institutions, fights corruption, and develops a transparent and safe environment for foreign investors.
But Ukraine’s democracy is in danger for as long as far right nationalists attack LGBT people both in the capital and around the provinces of Ukraine.
“We are very concerned about the growing violence; in 2017 we counted 226 homophobic attacks on LGBT people in Ukraine,” Sophia Lapina, a human rights defender from the “Our World” LGBT organization told The Daily Beast.
Feeling disillusioned about the government’s indifference to increasing homophobia, the Ukrainian LGBT movement has grown more organized in its political strategies. “It looks like, as we grow more organized and more active, hate for us is increasing, too,” said Lapina.
“So far we have not seen a single case in Ukraine’s courts against violent homophobes, so hopefully this time authorities will pay attention to the attack on our friends, on Ogurtsov,” Lapina said.