June 23, 2014 , 4:30PM Ukraine will be represented at WorldPride 2014 in Toronto by four of the country’s most prominent LGBT activists. The theme of WorldPride is RISE UP and these courageous souls perfectly resonate with that spirit. They are past and current organizers of KyivPride, EuroMaidan activists and crusaders for LGBT and Human Rights.
The events of the last six months from EuroMaidan to Crimea to the recent presidential election have shown that all Ukrainians are fighting for their rights. But Ukraine’s LGBT community has even more at stake and face a stark crossroads: Either progress toward European human rights and tolerance, or a slide into Russian-style oppression. Shortly after annexing Crimea from Ukraine, Putin enacted the same oppressive laws he imposed on Russians. Now southern and eastern Ukraine is threatened with a similar fate.
May 25th marked the anniversary of The First Equality March in Kyiv, when over one hundred brave marchers faced life-threatening obstacles in order to make their voices heard. Svyatoslav (Slava) SHEREMET, Olena SEMENOVA and Taras KARASIICHUK are the founding members of KyivPride. These are the same activists that fought against and prevented the oppressive anti-gay laws that were enacted in Russia from spreading to Ukraine. They were also activists with EuroMaidan in Kyiv and Donetsk, the protests that brought an end to the corrupt Yanukovych regime.
To draw attention to their cause, Slava Ultra Premium Vodka is proud to bring these four brave people from Ukraine and has sponsored them as participants and panelists at the Human Rights Conference being held during WorldPride. They will also be marching in the parade on Sunday along with supporters from the Ukrainian-Canadian and LGBT communities. Their visit will allow them to build a global network. The group arrived in Toronto Sunday night.
John Vellinga is President of Slava vodka. Asked why his company is sponsoring the four, he replied, “we are Canadian company but our vodka is made in the birthplace of vodka, the Cherkasy region of Ukraine. Right now Ukraine has serious challenges and we wanted to do what we could to help”.
He explains that Slava has been working within the Toronto area LGBT community for quite some time and saw this as the way the company could build a bridge between Ukraine and Canada. “Not that long ago, Pride in Toronto looked a lot like the first one in Kyiv. Imagine them seeing it today – and being cheered on by millions on Yonge Street. It will give them hope and inspiration that change can – and will – happen.”
“The theme of WorldPride 2014 is Rise Up. These are people who rose up, both for the human rights of all Ukrainians and specifically for those of the LBGT community. They deserve our respect and support.”
ABOUT THE VISITORS
The following video is an inspiring backgrounder on four activists and the challenges they have faced with the situation in Ukraine – and how it has affected the LGBT community over the past 2 years.
Mr. Svyatoslav (Slava) Sheremet - one of the founders of Kyiv Pride and a victim of a vicious hate crime after the Pride March was cancelled in 2012 and that received world-wide media attention. He is head of All-Ukrainian Public Organization “Gay Forum of Ukraine”. He is a public figure and has also founded the Coalition Against Discrimination in Ukraine which unites more than 50 organizations and is a national public initiative for the development of anti-discrimination legislation and social education about human rights.
Mr. Taras Karasiichuk – the current President of the All-Ukrainian Public Organization “Gay-Alliance Ukraine” which has regional representative offices in many regions of Ukraine. He is also current co-chair of organising committee KyivPride2014 and one of founders of the event.
Dr. Olena Semenova- a key organizer for the first ever Pride march held in Kyiv just over a year ago. She is also a lynchpin in fighting the “Gay Propaganda” laws – as forced attempted to spread them from Russia to Ukraine. These are the same oppressive laws that were implemented in Russia and drew world wide condemnation.
http://www.kyivpost.com/multimedia/photo/despite-interruptions-lgbt-community-holds-kyivs-first-ever-equality-march-324821.html Dr. Semenova is the co-founder and the Board Member of the Ukrainian LGBT NGO “The New Wave in the Better Future” that works with LGBT families in Ukraine.
Dr. Maksym Kasianchuk- founder and head of the first officially registered LGBT NGO in Donetsk “Donbas-SocProject”, co-founder of the Ukrainian Council of LGBT Organizations, as well as a consultant and expert on LGBT issues. He was involved in EuroMaidan in Donetsk, a key flashpoint of the current tension in Ukraine.