By Loretta Monique
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community have intensified. Even before this crisis, members of the community in Ukraine encountered discrimination and prejudice, but the ongoing conflict has exacerbated their struggles. Nevertheless, amidst these hardships, transnational solidarity has emerged as a powerful force, fostering resilience and creating opportunities for positive change.
Two inspiring individuals, Rina Rybalko and Vitaliy Zaharchuk, stand at the forefront of the battle for LGBTQIA+ rights in Ukraine. Their stories in the third episode of the Holosy podcast reflect the strength of the community and the urgent need for a comprehensive humanitarian response that addresses the unique challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Rina Rybalko: A Beacon of Hope and Advocacy
Rina Rybalko, an activist from Ukraine, embodies the spirit of activism and human rights advocacy. As a student of International Relations and Public Communications, Rina joined a youth NGO in her hometown of Dnipro, participating in projects aimed at mainstreaming and protecting human rights. Her journey took a significant turn when she became part of the Gender Stream team.
Within the Gender Stream team, Rina spearheaded impactful projects, including the Tolerance Island – a feminist and LGBTQIA+ program at an all-Ukrainian mainstream festival in 2021. However, her most challenging and transformative work began in February 2022, when she fully committed to working with LGBTQIA+ communities.
Rina played a crucial role in organizing two shelters for LGBTQIA+ refugees from Ukraine in Slovakia. The first shelter opened its doors in March 2022, providing a safe haven for those escaping the escalating crisis. Her dedication extends beyond immediate assistance, as she actively engages in advocacy at the international level. Rina sheds light on the challenges faced by Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ communities, working tirelessly to secure long-term and sustainable support for those affected.
Vitaliy Zaharchuk: A Voice for Inclusion in Humanitarian Response
Based in Odesa, Ukraine, Vitaliy Zaharchuk serves as the LGBTIQ inclusion advisor for Ukraine at Outright International. His role is pivotal in ensuring that the humanitarian response efforts in Ukraine are inclusive of the needs and capacities of the LGBTIQ community. Vitaliy’s involvement in humanitarian response projects dates back to 2014 in Kherson region and expanded to Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2016.
In February 2022, faced with the urgency of the situation, Vitaliy and his friends in occupied Kherson organized a volunteer initiative to provide comprehensive assistance to people. Despite the challenges, they documented the realities of life in occupied Kherson through social networks. As the situation became increasingly perilous, Vitaliy and his friends had to evacuate to Odessa in the summer of 2022.
Vitaliy actively engages in humanitarian sector meetings and working groups, advocating for LGBTIQ inclusion. He facilitates collaboration between humanitarian actors and LGBTIQ civil society organizations, working towards a more inclusive and responsive approach to the unique needs of the community.
Transnational Solidarity: Navigating Challenges Together
Despite the barriers and discrimination faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in Ukraine, Rina and Vitaliy’s stories highlight the strength that emerges from unity and solidarity. The ongoing crisis has brought to the forefront the urgent need for a humanitarian response that recognizes and addresses the specific challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals.
As the international community grapples with the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, it is crucial to integrate the needs of LGBTQIA+ communities into the broader humanitarian response. Rina and Vitaliy’s tireless efforts remind us that the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is not confined to national borders but requires a global commitment to equality, inclusivity, and justice.
In their advocacy and humanitarian work, Rina and Vitaliy exemplify the resilience and courage of the LGBTQIA+ community. By amplifying their voices and supporting initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in times of crisis, we can contribute to building a more just and inclusive world for everyone.
For more information on the series, please visit this page