The issue of equality and protection of LGBTQAI+ rights is becoming increasingly important in both the domestic and foreign policy of Ukraine, according to a report by Nash Mir (Our World) the Luhansk based Gay and Lesbian Centre, with political parties forced to articulate their views on LGBT+ issues.
In its activities, the Ukrainian government seeks to promote the principles of tolerance, gender equality and respecting the interests of LGBT+ people as a vulnerable group.
At the same time, such policies have met with harsh criticism and opposition from conservative religious circles, which still have a significant impact on legislators and society.
Aside from looking at LGBTQAI+ issues in this new episode of Ukrainian Field Notes, we also speak to Mystictrax and Noneside Records label head Lostlojic and get an update from Stanislav Bobrytsky (brainhack_musicbox).
APRIL 9 2022 – INTERNALLY DISPLACED
My name is Stas. I’m a Dj and promoter based in Kyiv. Founder of queer rave VESELKA, trance focused events Kyiv Trance Mission and KBA booking agency for Ukrainian talents.
I fell in love with dance music when I visited my first event when I was 14 YO. Since then I went from the waiter’s role to a management position in nightlife and started djing just for fun back in 2009.
Could you talk about the evolution of the queer scene and the current position of the LGBTQI+ community in Ukraine?
I remember when I was 16, I subscribed to a magazine like TimeOut or something, and there was a column about LGBT bars and clubs, it had around 10 venues in it. Then something changed and they all closed except for 1 or 2 venues that remained. But I think the history of the queer scene really starts with VESELKA.
Since VESELKA was born up until now LGBTQI+ community feels more and more comfortable and inclusive. We have Pride, we have Rave Pride which should’ve taken place this summer in a few big cities in Ukraine, but the war changed our plans. At the same time we have a LGBTQIA+ military battalion that fights on two fronts: real war and the war for human rights at the same time. So we are now at the stage of fast paced development.
It’s a process and it is continuous, especially when club ∄ opened. A lot of new venues and events voiced a firm position against homophobia, sexism, and racism. All they wanted was to create safe spaces for open minded people.
How did the pandemic affect you?
My plans were ruined, thank God only temporarily, so I just decided to take a break during the first month. Then, step by step, everything started going back to normal. Honestly, the pandemic was a really good period for me.
Veselka signed the open letter from the Ukrainian electronic music scene. How would you qualify the response of the international dance community to the war and is there more that could be done to help Ukrainian artists?
Since the first day of the war I received hundreds of messages with support from all around the world. Everyone wanted to help us and I really appreciate it. But after one or two weeks I saw some posts and stories on Instagram saying something like, “Why is everyone talking about Ukraine, have you forgotten about Palestine, Syria or about Black Lives Matter?”
I think for some people in EU countries, this is just another war somewhere, they don’t really realise that this war is far more than just between Russia and Ukraine.
If foreign promoters will give more slots to the Ukrainian artists who are currently in the EU that would be great and would show the most support. If people keep donating to the Ukrainian artists who decided to stay in Ukraine that will also be great.
As for me, now I only have my booking manager’s job with half of my roster of artists and its not so easy, only 2 out of 10 emails get a reply.
The late, queer British filmmaker Derek Jarman talked about dancing as a political act during the AIDS and Clause 28 years. Does electronic and dance music have a role to play in the current situation?
Of course! 99% of my foreign friends are making events to support Ukraine. Our artists started working in volunteer camps, helping with coordination, fundraising with profits going to Ukraine.
What’s been the impact of war on you, your family and your friends? And could you describe a typical day in your life at present, if there is any such thing?
I am still in a state of a panic attack really since 6am on the 24th February. The first three days were the hardest, I couldn’t hold the phone because my hands were shaking. I couldn’t eat, sleep, and I’m not even going to mention listening to music or watching a movie. Luckily I moved to the West of the country and here I relaxed a bit and started helping my friends who were in more difficult situations than me.
My parents are staying in Kyiv. Thank God they are kind of safe. Some friends moved to the EU, some stayed at home and are volunteering to help Ukraine.
Every day I start with a call to my mom and friends, and then I continue helping people find a shelter or a job. And scrolling the news with big hope to see something like “the war has ended”.
Are you still able to listen to / produce / release music at present?
I just started to listen to the music one week ago, I’m really missing the decks and the crowd but I don’t know how I’ll feel when it happens.
Are you able to think about the future?
Yes, I’m trying all the time. I believe we will win and after this we will rise like never before, but when and at what cost… is the question. Sometimes I’m going into a big depression and don’t understand if there will be a future.
Could you recommend a book / film / artwork / podcast / TV series that best captures Ukraine for you?
The national anthem of Ukraine.
APRIL 13 2022 – INTERNALLY DISPLACED
Volodymyr Baranovskyi Lostlojic
@lostlojic @mystictrax @nonesiderecords.
I’m Volodymyr Baranovskyi, known also as Lostlojic. Musician, dj, owner of two music labels: Mystictrax & Noneside Records. I am a supporter of a clear compositional structure in tracks, and love sampling, so now I use mostly software Ableton, Reason Studio, Adobe Audition.
You have been promoting young artists on Mystictrax and promoting young musicians on your YouTube channel. Have you been able to identify some common denominators that might be specific to the Ukrainian scene?
Musicians often don’t know how cool the music they make is. They create music after work (which is often not even associated with the creative industry), as a hobby. Sometimes I manage to find very cool artists, then I try to do everything in my power to bring music to the audience in the best way, to package music as a marketing manager, to make music interesting before people hear it. Many musicians have their own unique sound, for example, techno from Incorrect Waves can always be recognised, or the southern ambience from Arthur Kriulyn, or the minimalist house of Kiddmisha… All I have to do is believe in them.
How would you describe the experimental and electronic music scene in Kyiv and Ukraine, both in terms of clubs and labels and how would you say it compares to that of neighbouring countries? And would you say it is sufficiently inclusive with enough of a safe space ethos?
In addition to a very lively musical life in Kyiv, where you can go to a good party every day, and where you can hear cool local stars alongside foreign musicians, over the past year new event organisers and clubs have appeared or have become established in many cities in Ukraine. Even in small towns, people know about gender equality, they are friendly to every visitor to a music event, they know exactly who they want to hear (and it’s often local musicians).
Kyiv pushes the trends for sure. During the weekends, 3-5 clubs usually create the “green corridor” for party people, so you can visit all the clubs People gather at huge festivals like Brave Factory, Strichka, ICKPA… And all bars are LGBTQ+ friendly. People from Russia and Belarus always come to us, because they do not have freedom as we have here.
Are you still in Kyiv and what is the situation on the ground at the moment? Could you give us an idea of some of the more pressing challenges you are facing at present, for instance, are you still able to work?
I live in Kyiv, in a district that is very close to Bucha & Irpin, so even on my street two residential buildings destroyed by Russian bombs. The first week of the war, me and my wife stayed in Kyiv, and that was exhausting: every hour you had to run to the shelter because of airstrikes. At night we slept at a shelter under the local school, full of crying children, with all cats and dogs, old people.. and on the streets you heard explosions that are very loud even if they’re 20km away.
Many of my friends fled from Kyiv to the Western regions of Ukraine, but many have also stayed and after the initial shock we are now helping delivering medicines and food to the people in need, helping to cook food for hospitals and soldiers, or simply connecting drivers with those who want to leave the hot points of war and finding places to stay for refugees.
And also many friends have gone to the army or to the territorial defence forces. So all the money we donate are for the helmets and armour for our defenders, guns and even to buy military drones!
I have no knowledge of how to use guns, and have no good reaction to being a soldier, so I decided to help online as much as I can. Now I’m in a small calm village in the central part of Ukraine. Men are not allowed to leave the country in wartime, so I am waiting for my turn in the army as a reservist, but I hope that will not happen. Now the army has enough professional soldiers.
What are your feelings about the ban on the Russian music scene?
For a long time now, since the beginning of hostilities by Russians in 2014, I have not consumed Russian content, I have not listened to or supported their music, and since 2020 I have not spoken or written in Russian.
I never thought about which language I should use before I realised that Russians have been cultivating hatred and mistreatment of neighbouring nations for centuries, and all of this has been ingrained in their minds through culture. So I am not only in favour of severing all ties with the Russians, I am in favour of banning their culture, even the classics, because it instills in people the worst qualities, imperialist aggression, supremacy over the cultures of other nations, absolute obedience to power.
In Russian culture, from the first writers of the Russian Empire, propagandist directors, communists of the USSR, and the fascists who are now creating youtube channels, blogs, media, even rap – everywhere you can see the language of hostility to Ukrainians, Belarusians, Polіsh, Georgians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Finns, Kazakhs, peoples who are now fully russified in russia, racism, intolerance of gender, anti-feminist sentiments, and so on. Everything the cultural world struggles with, on the contrary, is sponsored and supported by the russians.
You have been working on quite a few fundraising releases and mixes selecting the Ukrainian Army as a cause. What has the response been and what would you say to those who have misgivings about donating to the army?
With my friends Sasha Poly Chain & Omon Breaker we started to collect tracks to create the compilation “Together For Ukraine” on my label Mystictrax to help volunteers. We collected 30 tracks but after we got together with Standard Deviation, another label from Kyiv, and the Modern Matters agency, we ended up with 65 tracks, including such big stars like Laurent Garnier, Ben Sims, Bjarki, Kangding Ray, Kittin, Nene H, Phase Fatale, Schacke, Terence Fixmer, Wallis…
In total we raised 15k Euro and have shared it between 4 funds: – Come Back Alive, National Bank of Ukraine Fundraising Account for Humanitarian Assistance, Ukraine Pride for LGBTQIA+ soldiers and LGBTQIA+ people affected by the war, and Voices of children, helping children affected by the war. Very proud that I am a part of this ❤
After this, I’ve started working on a series of releases inspired by the Ukrainian army, that fights against the so-called “second biggest army in the world” and wins even without guns and armour. Artists from the Mystictrax label, musicians like Raavel, Distortion (UA), Danilenko, and brothers of Decorodi & Clasps, have gone to the army. + Rugo, Rostyslax, Loweast are now serving in the Territorial Defence forces. So we started to help them to buy the best armour for them, best helmets & bulletproof vests, with the power of music. All money from the AZOV & ZSU EPs goes directly to our friends in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
And yes there is a problem with donations to the army – the world has forgotten and no longer understands the importance of sponsoring and serving in the army, because many have never seen war.
Western cultures are more willing to buy the slogans “For Peace”, “Friendship” than to help the army; this can be seen, unfortunately, by reducing the funds we raise. I also don’t want war, I don’t want murders, and I couldn’t believe what was happening, but it’s true: Russians just go and kill others, just because we are not them. They are flying and dropping bombs on schools and playgrounds to demoralise the population so that we can obey faster.If it weren’t for the Ukrainian army, I and all my relatives would have been killed, raped and burned in mobile crematoria a long time ago, and you wouldn’t even know about it. Therefore, while I am alive, I must support the defenders of Ukraine by all means, which is what I urge you to do!
Did you receive many interviews requests and offers to appear on fundraising compilations in the days immediately following the war? And are you now afraid that interest in the war may be waning in the West?
I’m afraid that’s what Russia is trying to do to win the war. We must be ready to play long, have the support and resources to provide for our military and ordinary people. Without the timely support of the world, we risk going back to the Middle Ages. Given the crimes of Russians who already use chemical weapons, sooner or later they will use nuclear weapons, as well as take over the lands of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Moldova, and so on and so forth if we do not stop them now.
I took part in a fundraiser from a band with a lot of Russian musicians, but I only found out about it ex post facto. Europeans are still trying to reconcile us with the aggressor, which I think is completely inappropriate. I believe that all Russians are to blame for the deaths of Ukrainians, because most of them support Putin’s government, even those who have not lived in Russia for a long time.
Yes, even I gave 5 interviews in a few months. Musicians are often apolitical people, and I’m afraid that many of them are now giving very controversial and emotional interviews.
Are you able to think about the future?
I still have work, but my motivation is constantly changing. Sometimes I get excited about a new idea, and sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed. I was going to buy an apartment in Kyiv, but now I don’t have that goal, and all I want is the death of Putin and the collapse of Russia. Only then I can be sure that I’m safe.
After the victory of Ukraine, I plan to dedicate my whole life to the creation of music and to spread the Ukrainian language.
It so happened that my album Mamay was released just during the war. It also happened thanks to the Deeptrax label (Netherlands), which decided to give my release a turn. I dedicated the music to the glorious warrior and musician from fairy tales – Mamay, I suggest you look at folk paintings with his image.
One of the tracks is dedicated to the poet Vasyl Stus, who was tortured in prison by Russians for his poems in Ukrainian. With the help of the album we raised 1,000 Euro to help the army.
APRIL 13 2022 – KYIV
Stanislav Bobrytsky brainkhack_musicbox
Since we interviewed him for the first Ukrainian Field Notes, Stanislav has sent us an update.
I’m safe, still in Kyiv, and have gone back to my usual job schedule (which is not too complicated, since I write code and almost everything happens online).
Since I have zero military experience, the best way for me to be useful is to work to help keep economics working, and to be able to donate a lot for our army, humanitarian and private fundraisers.
In parallel, I’m sorting out the unreleased material from my archive hard drive which I managed to save a month ago. The latest result is an album of generative modular music which I self-released on March 24, a month after war began.
Since then, the album has already raised some funds (not much but still surprising for such kind of material) which also will be donated to the army of Ukraine.
Now I’m preparing the next release of old recordings and trying to record something new, since I still have a studio in Kyiv.
It’s calm in Kyiv now, the most heavy battles moved to eastern and southern cities, and from what I can see, the situation is no good there, despite some success of our soldiers. But many experts predict a new wave of attacks on Kyiv from the side of Belarus.
In parallel, our music writer friend Ivan Shelekhov has been writing an article for The Wire about underground music in Ukraine. He asked me for some comments but at the moment I’ve had nothing to add to what I have already said.
So it goes.
APRIL 20, 2022 – KYIV
Yevhen Trachuk KyivPride
How has the situation regarding LGBTQIA+ rights evolved in Ukraine since the inception of KyivPride, and how diverse are conditions for the community throughout the country?
We started KyivPride back in 2012. We turn 10 years in 2022. The situation changed critically: from 100 participants of the March of Equality in 2012 and thousands of armed right radicals ready to beat us up, to 7,000 marching together in 2021 with the police protecting us and just 250 protesters.
In terms in laws, I wouldn’t say much has changed, it’s an ongoing process (though, there were changes, like anti-discriminational law and cancellation of homophobic blood donation bill).
But the people’s mentality changed. Now, queer people are far more supported and represented. Businesses work and collaborate with LGBTQIA+ organisations, celebrate the annual Pride Month alongside with world companies. The Kyiv police acknowledges LBGTQIA+ issues and provide decent protection of the events. Also, there are fewer opponents, because the majority of Ukrainians support ideas of human rights, equality and freedom.
What are the figures for KyivPride and other regional Pride events in Ukraine?
KyivPride 2019 and 2021 had around 8,000 participants. They were the biggest ones to date. KharkivPride had 2,500 participants (as Kharkiv is the second largest Ukrainian city), and ZaporizhyaPride had roughly 500 participants. But numbers grow every year. To give you an idea, the first successful Pride March in Kyiv was attended by 2,000 people.
How has the war affected the LGBTQIA+ community and what can be done to support those who’ve joined the army?
I keep saying it, and I’ll repeat it once more. War has affected us all in the same way. Our lives are at stake, so there’s not much time for homo/bi/transphobia. People are simply trying to survive, save their loved ones and fight for our country and values.
It may be more problematic for trans people, though. It’s difficult to get hormones right now, but LGBTQIA+ NGOs are doing everything in their power to supply them with those.
I would also like to mention that war has had a positive effect as well. Our LGBTQIA+ militaries are now known worldwide. The Ukrainian State account @ukraine.ua makes posts about them and this is met with a lot of support and acceptance.
You have set up shelters in Lviv, what is the situation on the ground in terms of housing for internally displaced LGBTQIA+ people?
I’m not sure anyone bothers whether you’re queer or not. It’s pretty hard (almost impossible) to find an apartment to rent in Lviv right now. And there may be some problems when living in mixed shelters, but at the moment, I’m not aware of such cases.
Clubs like ∄ (K41) and queer raves like Veselka, with their inclusive and safe-space policy, are contributing to promote LGBTQIA+ rights. Would you say this has had an impact on society in general?
I’ve never been to Veselka, but I am aware of it, and have a lot of love for what Tweeman is doing. Especially his trance party series called KyivTranceMission.
As for K41, it used to be my favorite club in Kyiv. The DJs, the music, the sound system… I’m so in love with this club. And both ∄ and Veselka set the trend of their “no homo/bi/transphobia, no sexism, no racism” policy. So, whenever I went to K41, I felt so safe and myself. And I saw other people (even heteronormative ones), doing their best to be their true selves, experimenting with their looks and behavior.
This indicates that rave culture did change society. K41 collaborated with many queer DJs and artists (such as CROSSLUCID and Jennifer Cardini), and this had an impact on the visitors. They also organised a party on IDAHO day (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia), just like the “Crest” club did in 2020 in collaboration with KyivPride.
Celebrities like Rain Dove have highlighted the predicament of trans people wanting to leave Ukraine. What can be done to help?
It is prohibited for those who have “male marker” on their IDs to leave the country, but it’s not problematic for any trans person in Ukraine to change it (there were also some reforms planned before the war started). And even though the law is not perfect, now is the war time, so there’s not much we can do. Rain Dove, though, proposes to leave Ukraine illegally, which may be the way for some, and I respect that. But it can affect people’s lives if they decide to return to Ukraine after the war.
Along with other LGBTQIA+ organisations, KyivPride can provide shelter in safer places within Ukraine, which is better than nothing. I personally lived a month in Ivano-Frankivsk and had no problem with it.
In times of crisis such as these, are you afraid that reactionary measures might be put in place to curtail the rights of the LGBTQAI+ community and that the war is amplifying hate speech?
Ukraine chose the European path, so I don’t believe it’s happening.
KyivPride’s partners include Amnesty International, the Elton John Foundation, USAID, The American Embassy in Kyiv and Freedom House. How would you say human rights organisations and governments have responded to the war in terms of LGBTQAI+ rights?
The governments and the organisations were pretty responsive. A lot of help was and is being provided. They didn’t run away or anything, we’re keeping in touch and coordinating what we do.
What can you tell me about @DonbasQueer?
It’s run as one of KyivPride side-projects now. As far as I know, many queer people fled to safer places within Ukraine. Some fled to Germany, Poland or Czech Republic. We’re continuing our work online, and coordinating folk with evacuation and stuff.
Did many of them flee already back in 2014?
Yep, there were many of those who left Donetsk, Horlivka and other occupied cities in 2014 and after. I can’t provide you with up-to-date information, but I’m aware that russia projected their laws on occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and some people became the victims of the repressions. There were even cases when queer people were sent to jail. The lucky ones were living in fear and hiding their identity.
Finally, what’s the situation like in Kyiv since you’ve been back?
It’s much safer now in Kyiv since the Russian army fled and is concentrating their forces in the East of Ukraine. Cafes, restaurants and even some bars are functioning, and there’s no problem with supplies. Russia may target Kyiv again, though, but I want to believe they’re on their limits and that the war will be over soon.