Kyiv: A Queer City Guide
Kyiv is exactly what you expect it to be, and it is completely the opposite. Its cold skyline is brutal and grey. But if you look a little closer, you will see little specs of colour. Its these air pockets of joy that give the LGBT+ some room to breathe.
The Queer situation in Kyiv is mostly textbook for a post-soviet society. Homosexuality is legal, there are anti-discriminatory laws, and gay people are allowed to serve in the military. Inevitably, the weight of these milestones fade in practice.
In May 2020 a Trans Youth was chased home, “naked and bleeding after being stripped, handcuffed, raped and robbed by his date”.
This is one of countless of examples of how equality laws and political decisions are only as protecting as what a society wants them to be.
Occasional Rainbows over a concrete city.
Although signs of the Queer community in Kyiv are hard to find, they exist. Dating apps are one direct link to the underground community. Grindr and Hornet are widely used in Ukraine and Kyiv, but be sure to find blank profile pictures and headless torso’s. Hornet in particular is surprisingly popular, because of the numerous features allowing secrecy and identity confirmation.
In 2016, Kyiv was the host city of the ‘gay-Olympics’ that is Eurovision. In 2007, previous winner and drag queen, Verka Seducka, stole the hearts of their native Ukraine and of Europe. To this day, Verka can be seen as the face of major telecommunications companies and is hugely successful. Proof that drag culture can exist when its entertainment value is contained within very tight boundaries.
Nearly a decade later Jamala lifted the Eurovision crown. Time passed, but the discrimination did not. Jamala reflects how she felt compelled to voice her support to the LGBT+ community in their Pride March in Kyiv- after threats from violent clashes.
Camp and queer culture exists in Ukrainian society, but is not welcomed.
The New Berlin
Dark, sexy and underground, Kyiv is becoming a powerhouse of European techno.
The Euromaiden revolution in 2014 remains a symbol of how a generation of young people have few opportunities or prospects. This proved to be fertile breeding ground for a generation prioritising creativity, as leftover frustration is now channeled into art, partying and hedonism.
‘The new Berlin’ is home to some beautifully dystopian rave spaces. The ‘Closer’ club is widely known, but difficult to find. Its red-bricked exterior gives an inviting warmth, a sense of community for those who have felt orphaned by the state.
The dark interior is like closing your eyes, allowing for imagination. Occasional silhouettes and lights flicker into your consciousness, to remind you of your surroundings. ‘Closer’ feels both eerie and safe. Safe enough to allow you to drift in your thoughts, until the protruding bass resuscitates you back into reality.
The increasingly progressive and liberal attitudes of young people in Kyiv has allowed the queer community to enjoy these clubs, and to consider them safe spaces.
VESELKA: Kyiv’s first Queer Rave
Meaning ‘rainbow’, VESELKA was created by DJ Tweeman, to give a break to queer kids whom crave escapism from a conservative society. Its residency is often at Otel’, but it can also be found in abandoned factories or disused buildings scattered in Kyiv’s murky suburbs.
Want Britney, Cher, Madonna? Then try the commercial club LIFT. As VESELKA is endorsed by Herrensauna (@herrensauna.official) from Berlin, meaning it is a pilgrimage for the nipple pierced, leather weathering, Gosia Rubckinskiy sporting kids whom are at the forefront of Ukraine’s creative scene.
VESELKA alongside Cxema have propelled queer art to the forefront of the Kyiv club scene, and in doing so, has carved out a safe space that is attracting the curious.
Kyiv feels like a city itching for change. Metro’s are packed with sub-cultures of young people showcasing their identities and protesting their rights to live the life they choose. Fed up with politics and conformity, the cities youth share common frustrations and pains felt by queer communities. Hopefully art can continue to bridge this gap.
The Motherland monument is a steel monument that stands 62 meters over Kyiv. In 2020, pride was cancelled, so activists decided to fly a rainbow flag via a drone in front of the monument. The stunt bought an outcry of anger to a community of people, whom very much like the monument, are mourning the past and fearful of the future.
The motherland monument is a symbol of how Ukraine is stood still. The nation needs to move forward towards a future that is positive, progressive and changing. The LGBT+ community is not a hindrance in this. The LGBT+ community is a blueprint of strength, adaptability, creativity and hope in an uncertain world.