More than 50 local community members and activists showed up this past weekend for the first-ever LGBTQ Pride march in Odessa, Ukraine. The process, however, was not easy.
The day before the event, local authorities in Odessa banned the event on the grounds there was a high probability of a conflict, as far-right activists were also scheduled to gather at the same time and place. Organizers of the Pride march told NBC OUT this is a popular tactic used to cancel public events in the city.
Authorities also prohibited any outdoor events in Odessa during the period the Pride march was supposed to take place, and due to the ban, a number of hotels, including the popular Reikartz Hotel Group, refused to provide a place for LGBTQ events.
However, organizers eventually managed to convince authorities to allow the Pride march, and the police agreed to protect the safety of those who participated. As a result, an area near the historic Potemkin Stairs was cordoned off by a few hundred police officers and special forces.
'We know that there is a threat from small extremist groups that operate in Odessa," Anna Leonova, an organizer of Odessa Pride, told NBC OUT. "But I don’t believe that in our city there are forces that ... may constitute a danger for us."
"Today you are making history," Zoryan Kis, an LGBTQ activist and one of the organizers of Kiev Pride, told the crowd. Kis said Odessa Pride would have been impossible just one year ago.
While LGBTQ activists marched, a group of about 20 radical youth protesters tried to break through the area police had cordoned off and attempted to disrupt the event. The police, in turn, knocked several of them to the ground with batons.
"Guys are shedding blood there [in eastern Ukraine where the conflict with Russia continues], but you protect gays," one of the Pride opponents shouted. Most of those trying to disrupt the march were members of the local football club, who hold right-wing views. Some of them were even involved in massive clashes that took place in the city two years ago between pro-Russian supporters and Ukrainian government supporters -- the violence resulted in a fire that left dozens dead.
While the police were arresting the anti-LGBTQ protesters, the Pride march participants were being taken to a safe place. However, after two hours of conversations at the police station, the protestors were released from detention.