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Shunned and homeless LGBT Ukrainians find shelter in Kiev: Interview by Reuters

Shunned and homeless LGBT Ukrainians find shelter in Kiev: Interview by Reuters

KIEV (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Staring at the Berlin Wall mural of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German leader Erich Honecker on the mouth, Yevhenii Kalashnyk knew it was time to come out as gay.

The 20-year-old Ukrainian kissed a friend in front of the graffiti painting in September and posted the photo on Instagram. The decision changed his life.

“I was emotionally full,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

He said he had only kissed another man for the first time a few months earlier and had arrived in the German capital about 60-days into his first trip to western Europe where he hoped to find some peace of mind after a difficult period.

For while gay sex has been legal in Ukraine since 1991, it remains socially taboo with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people facing stigma, discrimination and sometimes violent attacks, rights groups say.

Ukrainian authorities have increased their support for gay rights since a pro-Western government took power following the Maidan protests in 2014 and in 2015 passed a law banning workplace discrimination against the LGBT community.

But critics say homophobic attitudes remain widespread. The country scored 19 out of 100 points in a 2016 survey by EU-funded Rainbow Europe ranking LGBT people’s rights in Europe.

Shortly after posting the kiss photo, Kalashnyk received a call from his mother.

“She asked: ‘Are you gay?'. I said ‘yes’ ... Then she started saying very bad things,” he said, adding that his father also threatened him.

RAINBOW SAFE HOUSE

Too afraid to go home to Nikopol, Kalashnyk headed to Kiev when he returned to Ukraine about a month later where he found accommodation with Insight, a local gay rights group.

The organization runs Ukraine’s first and only LGBT shelter - a four-room flat, with bunk beds, a kitchen and communal area, in an old apartment block outside Kiev’s city center.

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