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Mobile Mural Platforms Queer Ukrainian Activists

Queer Ukrainians want you to know that they’re fighting for their country, their rights and their lives – and they need all the support they can get…

A twenty-foot wide fabric mural installed on-street at Toronto Pride is platforming queer Ukrainian activists, giving them an opportunity to share their thoughts. The mural features portraits of seven Ukrainian LGBTQ+ activists, along with extended quotes from each activist discussing Russia’s invasion. Visitors can use a QR code on the mural to visit a microsite where they can watch recorded interviews with the activists.

Many of the quotes deal with the importance of combating Russian propaganda that misportrayed Ukraine and undermines support for Ukrainians’ struggle against invasion.

“The far right does exist in Ukraine, but it is a small amount of people who are full of hate towards LGBTQ+ people and who are supported by Russia and financed by Russia. Russia supports them as part of their propaganda narrative, because they want Ukraine to be seen as a Nazi country, which is not true,” says Lenny Emson, director of KyivPride.

“It’s the first modern war where you can see big representation from the LGBTQ+ community – on the front line, in the army, and every part of this defence against Russia. And we need all of your support here. Not just for refugees. We also need support for our army because we fight for LGBTQ+ rights, also,” says Borys Potapovych, director of Paralegals UA, a legal aid clinic that specializes in assisting LGBTQ+ Ukrainians.

Olena Hanich, from Odesa Pride, says, “When Kyiv was almost completely surrounded – when most of the routes for leaving the city were closed due to encirclement by Russian troops, I personally was very afraid that Russian soldiers would enter the city, because I know for sure that they are cruel.”

She continues, “We know cases where the names of LGBTQ+ activists are being added to lists that are being transferred to the Russian military. We know that the Russian military is looking for people who are on these lists. My colleague was warned that she is on this list. And I was very afraid for myself, for my friends, because they could also be on this list.”

Meanwhile, Zhenya Trachuk, who is also from KyivPride, asks the world for some understanding about Ukraine’s shortcomings on LGBTQ+ acceptance and says, “For the United States, it took more than 60 years to have same sex marriage and we are still on our way. People shouldn’t expect us to do much right now because we are still on our way. They shouldn’t use some cases of transphobia to throw shade at Ukraine in general.”

The twenty-foot wide fabric mural profiling queer Ukrainian activists that is on display on the street at Toronto Pride

The mural was created by Adam Zivo, an IN Magazine columnist and a columnist at the National Post who spent 10 weeks reporting in Ukraine for the newspaper. Zivo worked with KyivPride to produce the mural as an anti-disinformation project.

“While reporting from Ukraine, I often Tweeted about my experiences there, including how queer Ukrainians emphatically reject the narrative that Ukraine has an exceptional far right problem. There was a lot of pushback on that, with many people simply refusing to listen to, or believe, queer Ukrainians who were speaking about their own country,” said Zivo.

“In response, KyivPride and I decided to film interviews with queer activists to further amplify their voices – we wanted people to stop speaking over queer Ukrainains and actually listen to them. This mural was created from the content we filmed.”

Zivo hopes that the mural can be set up in different public spaces throughout the summer. For now, it will be up on Church Street, just north of Gerrard, for the remainder of Pride Toronto’s main weekend.

The mural will be up for all of pride. Zivo says that he hopes that the mural can tour throughout different public spaces over the summer.

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