Ukrainian gay couple pepper-sprayed while holding hands in Kiev – but that's not the main message in latest social experiment video

Inspired by a viral Russian video in the wake of the US Supreme Court legalising same-sex marriage, a Ukrainian couple wanted to test how people in their country responded to them holding hands around the capital

Kiran Moodley
Friday 31 July 2015 10:40 BST
Being gay in Kiev, Ukraine

A man sits on his partner's lap, holding a bunch of flowers as the gay couple chat on a bench on Khreshchatyk Street, the main street in Kiev, Ukraine.

The pair - Zoryan Kis and Tymur Levchuk - are approached by a gang of men described as neo-Nazis, who begin to talk to the pair about whether they see themselves as patriotic Ukrainians, as well as teasing them that they seem to think they live in the USA, a reference to the recent decision by the Supreme Court to legalise same-sex marriage across the 50 states.

It eventually turns out that this supposedly calm group of far-right supporters aren't necessarily in the mood for a debate about patriotism and American politics, but are instead biding their time until the nearby police patrol has left the area.

Once the officers are disappeared, one of the men pepper-sprays the couple with the others proceeding to kick at the pair. A person runs to fend off the attackers while the couple stand up and walk away, clearly shocked.

Difference to Russia?

While this is the most eye-opening event during the pair's walk around the capital, the couple were at pains to point out that it was not representative of what the overriding response from the public was to them holding hands over the course of an hour in Kiev.

Zoryan Kis explains at the end of the video: "What conclusion can we make? That in our society there are a few aggressive homophobic radicals who are ready for physical violence. Other people just don’t care as long as it does not concern them personally. And this minority tries to force everyone to play by their rules."

"We saw a lot of verbal insults in Moscow, and we did not see it here. People could have been thinking something along these lines, but they decided not to say it aloud. This alone is a step forward."

The Ukrainian parliament is currently debating the issue of same-sex partnerships, although church leaders have condemned any plans to permit any form of gay marriage in the country.

In May, a gay rights march was attacked by a number of people hurling teargas and smoke bombs at the event in Kiev.

Eugene Safonov, the editor-in-chief of Bird In Flight, who produced the video, told The Independent that Tymur and Zoryan were both Maidan activists and had taken a first aid course, so immediately after the pepper-spray incident they went to get antacid to ease the irritation.

He said, “During the hour of walking around town we did not hear any insults, and to provoke some kind of reaction I suggested Tymur sits on Zoryan’s lap. Some people were surprised and turned their heads, some chuckled, but there was no aggression. If not for the encounter with this group of hooligans, I think, it would have been okay.

“This is what the participants of our video stress as well – despite the fact that there were idiots in Kiev who attacked them, our experiment demonstrated that such idiots can be counted on one hand, and the majority of Kiev citizens are more tolerant to gays than people in Moscow.”

Russian response to social experiment

Since the release of the Russian video, The Independent approached LGBT people in Russia to come forward and state whether the depiction of the Russian public - as overtly homophobic - was accurate.

Olga Andreevskikh said, "I must say, what is happening in the video seems quite true to life. From the Russian society's point of view, it is not acceptable or common for men to walk hand-in-hand. Such open and brave behaviour cannot but provoke aggression on the part of less tolerant or less well-mannered members of the society. Some of my gay friends told me they risked walking along the streets holding their partner's hand, but these are normally very rare occasions and this can only be done in very busy places where they can, should it be necessary, get help from passers-by or the police."

Edwin Be wrote that the video was "very accurate" for the situation in Moscow and St Petersburg. "I live in Moscow and I will never hold hands with my boyfriend in public out of security; I don't want him to be fired or dead."

Aleksej Korolev said that the video even showed a "moderate" reaction of the public to gay people given that it was filmed in the capital, Moscow.

"In other regions the situation is much graver. We need the videos like that to make the problem of homophobia more visible. I hope that this project is not the last one."

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