On Sunday, October 22, at 11 pm, two unidentified men attacked Igor Zakharchenko and his partner near the entrance to their home. Igor Zakharchenko received minor injuries and his life partner suffered a psychological trauma.
Not only that, but as early as October 18, threatening messages were left on the building’s entrance walls. After that the victims stopped spending their nights at home. The perpetrators must have been waiting for Igor and his partner for several days before the assault.
According to Igor, the police failed to take prompt action. He says that the police were even reluctant to register his crime report. “There still has been no investigation in our case,” he says. “And this is crucial, because in such cases the investigation needs to be carried out before the trace gets cold. Meanwhile the police have not even examined the crime scene. Moreover, for some reason our case was given to a district officer rather than a detective, even though the attack threatened our lives.”
This is the third time that Igor Zakharchenko was assaulted. Two previous cases – a beating during KyivPride 2016 and a beating in Odesa – are still to be investigated. “I filed a report with the police each time and it had zero results,” says Igor Zakharchenko. “I know of three other people from Odesa that have been attacked in the last three months, so we can say that the situation in our city is getting worse.”
According to Igor Zakharchenko, LBGT victims seldom report such incidents to the police because they doubt that there would be any sort of investigation. “We are invisible in this country,” says Igor Zakharchenko. Oleksandr Zinchenkov, expert of the LGBT Advocacy Center Nash Mir who has been monitoring violations of LGBT rights in Ukraine for over ten years, prepared a report entitled “Faces of hatred. Homophobia and transphobia crimes and incidents in Ukraine in 2014-2016”. Here are three typical stories from it:
“Case 638 (Mariupol, 2015). Several police officers, posing as gay men looking for a date on a social network, invited a young man to a meeting. When he arrived, they illegally detained him and brought him to a district precinct where they threatened to tell everything to his coworkers, parents and neighbors unless he’d pay up (UAH 8,000). The victim was forced to pay the money.”
“Case 637 (Kyiv, 2015). A manager at a Silpo supermarket fired several employees, accusing them of being gay, in an insulting manner and in front of witnesses. The victims did not report this.”
“Case 647 (Kyiv, 2015). Three young men, 19-25 years old, beat up a gay man. The victim reported this to the police but they refused to start an investigation.”
The Nash Mir has been monitoring Ukraine’s hate crimes scene for almost 15 years. Between January and July 2017 they documented 117 homophobia and transphobia incidents and crimes, instances of discrimination and other violations of LGBT rights. The worst offenders were Kyiv (31 incidents), Kharkiv (19), Dnipro (13), Zaporizhia (9) and Odesa (8). Most of the violations involved insults, threats, humiliation and physical violence of varying degrees of severity. In addition, 17 violations of the rights of LGBT community by law enforcement were recorded during the aforementioned period.
“Hate crimes make up 75% of all LBGT-related violations,” says Oleksandr Zinchenkov. “In recent years such crimes became more numerous and more brutal. Now they involve infliction of grievous bodily harm and murder. The majority of the victims are gay men and transgender persons, as they are more noticeable.”
According to the expert, the main reason for the rising violence is Ukraine’s flawed legislation which still does not treat hate crimes committed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity as crimes with aggravating circumstances. “Investigators even avoid mentioning gender in cases altogether,” says Oleksandr Zinchenkov. “I haven’t heard of a single case that was sent to trial with the classification of a gender-based crime. Thus, the Ukrainian state is simply avoiding these issues.”
According to Zoryan Kis, advocacy manager at Freedom House Ukraine, most victims of gender-based violence can’t speak out about it because of systematic intimidation of the LGBT community by radical and extremist groups. “Igor and others like him should not have to rely on the media to force the police to do their job,” says Zoryan Kis. “Unfortunately, Ukrainian investigators have neither the practice nor the ability to investigate such crimes.”
Zoryan Kis himself is known for having walked the Khreshchatyk Street with his partner several years ago, holding hands. The experiment was being filmed on a hidden camera and ended with an attack on them by a group of right-wing homophobes. “We passed the evidence to the police, the attackers’ faces were clearly visible on the video,” says Zoryan Kis. “Unfortunately, two and a half years later there’s been no progress in the investigation. Our lawyer has not even been shown the case file.”
Oleksandr Zinchenkov also shared a shocking story about a meeting of LGBT activists with police officers in Poltava Oblast in 2009. “One major asked us, ‘How can you promote homosexuality when the Bible is our fundamental law?’,” recalls the expert. “So our police and its successor – the National Police – seem to still be guided in their work not by the Ukrainian Constitution or even the Criminal Procedure Code, but by a work of literature.”
Vladyslav Petrov, project coordinator at the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, mentioned that the National Police is supposed to have an official responsible for keeping statistics on hate crimes. “This is very important, because the National Police used to claim that no such crimes existed or that they had no such statistics,” says Vladyslav Petrov. He also said that Igor Zakharchenko will be represented in court by lawyer Dmytro Mazurok who works with UHHRU. The Union will also start communications with the National Police in Odesa regarding the way they conduct investigations and how they classify certain crimes.
According to Vladyslav Petrov, UHHRU lawyers are litigating several cases on kidnappings, extortion, blackmail, loans and loss of business which involve representatives of the LGBT community who are afraid to disclose their names. Vladyslav Petrov calls on any LGBT people that have fallen victim to hate crimes to contact UHHRU to receive free legal aid. There are currently 26 UHHRU legal aid centers operating in various regions of Ukraine, and their addresses and phone numbers can be found at this link.