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Ukraine holds peaceful gay pride rally in Kyiv

A gay pride march in Kyiv has passed largely without incident. That in itself is progress as Ukraine, one of Europe's most homophobic countries, continues to change its attitudes since Maidan started in 2014.

A reported 5,500 police on duty watched as an estimated 1,500 LGBT supporters marched through Kyiv, the national police chief said after the event, adding that 57 people had been detained and later released.

The march was the

third such gay pride rally in Ukraine

but the first to be held in the center of the capital after

violent clashes

with far-right groups in 2015.

Far-right threats

Right-wing radicals had warned that Sunday's event would result in a "bloodbath."

"The authorities have committed a crime by allowing this march to take place," nationalist leader Mykola Kokhanivsky said. "And [the gay activists'] behavior is a crime against the normal Ukrainian citizen."

Ukraine Gay Pride Parade in Kyiv

Ukraine Gay Pride Parade in Kyiv

Human rights

Some of the marchers carried rainbow flags and Ukrainian flags and chanted "human rights come first!"

A number of Ukrainian politicians also took part, including two from President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary group.

The fact that the march took place in the center of the capital and with such heavy police support was a sign of changes in Ukrainian society, said Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of parliament who attended the march.

"EuroMaidan was not only against [former President Viktor] Yanukovych, it was against corruption and for human rights as well," he said.

Legal changes

The Ukrainian authorities have increased their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender rights since the pro-Western government came to power in 2014 after the Maidan protests.

Parliament passed legislation in 2015 year to ban discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace as part of a series of laws Ukraine needed to pass to qualify for an EU visa-free travel agreement.

At the time of the vote, then speaker of the parliament Volodymyr Groysman, who is now prime minister, said Ukraine would never support gay marriage.

International support

"A few steps forward (literally!) for #Kyivpride. A big leap forward for equality in Ukraine," Britain's openly lesbian ambassador to Ukraine, Judith Gough, said on Twitter.

"There is even stronger political backing than last year," Rebecca Harms, a German member of the European Parliament, told Reuters at the march. "You need equal rights for everybody in a democratic society, and sexual orientation cannot be a reason to exclude people from their rights."

At the end of the peaceful march, some activists sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

Times a-changin'

Homosexuality was illegal in the USSR and homophobia is still rampant in Ukraine where the Orthodox Church has a strong influence.

"The road to equality in Ukraine is difficult as well as dangerous," Bohdan Hloba, one of the rally's organizers, said. "We have been threatened with a 'bloodbath' but every step of this march gives us hope."

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