EVENTS | ACTIVISM
“Is This Happening?”
Foreword by GiOD.
Interviews/photos by Alexey Kim.
is the difference between
local time in New York City and Ukraine.
While millions of New Yorkers laid their heads to rest like on any normal Wednesday, the Russian Federation was celebrating the Soviet Era holiday, Defender of the Fatherland Day. This holiday has been historically held on the 23 of February since its creation in 1919. Ukraine, though it is a previous Soviet Republic, no longer celebrates this historical holiday. In fact, the holiday is not even recognized and Ukraine has in response created Defender of Ukraine Day, held on the 14th of October. Russia celebrated with its usual display of fireworks from Moscow to Kazan. The celebration was interrupted by a televised broadcast of Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. Though the broadcast was in Russia, the whole world tuned in for this special announcement. The announcement was concise, short, and widely received as one thing; we have declared war on Ukraine. Soon after the announcement, residents of Ukraine woke to blasts and flashes in the sky. Sounds of Ka-52’s, a large helicopter with the Russian nickname “Alligator” because like the alligator, it is strong, powerful, scary, and is meant to kill. In the digital media age, videos began circulating on all the popular social media applications.
“Is this happening?”
Confused and unaware of the severity, Ukrainian citizens began conducting their days as normal. For a country that has known nothing but battlegrounds, scrimmages, and body bags, an overwhelming number of citizens have become desensitized to the sense of danger. Just a regular day. It was not long before some cities in the most eastern regions of Ukraine were flooded with Russian military vehicles, tanks, personnel, and convoys of weapons. In Russia, things also appeared as normal, with the curtain pulled over the media. Citizens suspected nothing. That same curtain veiled the media from what was going on in the Eastern Bloc. Russia’s war extended all the way from the cold, muddy slosh of Ukrainian forests in the winter, to the censorship of news, media, and information from being released to the world. Stateside, the informed public knows that mainstream news is no longer credible and is much too versed in Russian Cyber Tactics. A war was waging in Eastern Europe and in an attempt to find credible sources, people all over the world had to conduct a personal treasure hunt for news. Once again – “Is this happening?” The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed his country and delivered the grim news that their eastern neighbors had declared war on Ukraine, but not only on the country – on the Ukrainian people. This sent chills down the spines of Ukrainians who fought for their land and to be recognized as a group of people. Recognition of nationality and sovereignty sparked a war nearly seven centuries ago. It is this very same war that has dehumanized and discredited the Ukrainian people today. Ruthenia, a historical kingdom that dates back to the Middle Ages, developed into what you recognize today as Russia and Eastern Europe. A kingdom once united, was divided by differences in nationality, sovereignty, moral, and religious views. Freedom eventually came but it was not long before a new “kingdom” was invented: the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Under the USSR, WWII left Ukraine in ruins with the population massacred and the culture ethnically cleansed. Ukraine saw a rebirth and rebuilding period after the country was recognized as a sovereign state. Though the birth of a nation is always a struggle, Ukraine was more susceptible to the influence of its former Soviet neighbor because of their intertwined economies and geographical resources. In usual form, the Russians influenced individuals by means of media to cause political insurgence against a pro-Ukrainian government. As a result of constant influence, people began to see the familiarities in their current government and the government it fled from. Corruption was abundant amongst the Ukrainian government officials and the public no longer recognized their president as their leader. The Ukrainian people fought for their sovereignty on the streets of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, against a Soviet martyr. A successful election was held in 2012, and the people of Ukraine elected a president to represent them. As Ukrainians began to look to the future for Ukraine, Soviet nuisance once again challenged its comrade. Crimea, a 24,000km peninsula connected to both Ukraine and Russia, was invaded by the Russian Federation nearly two years after the insurrection in Kyiv. Ukraine once again was left robbed, discredited, and with a loss of sovereignty.
Nearly seven years later, on the 23rd of February, on Defender of the Fatherland Day, Putin looks to unite the people of Ukraine with the people of Russia. The same unity that has stayed weft into the fabric of society for more than seven centuries.
Meanwhile, on February 26, 2022 New Yorkers gathered at the historic The Stonewall Inn to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
NOTE: Citations linked within interviews are also used as a sourse for the foreword.
Bogdan holds up a Ukrainian flag in front of The Stonewall Inn.
SWK: Are you the organzier of this event?
SWK: I’d like to find out a bit more about this event and why we are here today.
Bogdan: I think there are two ideas here. One is to show solidarity to the LGBTQ+ community of Ukraine. The main reason why is because many of them didn’t have a chance to leave Ukraine. It’s a real war there and most of the day they are hidden somewhere because Russians are bombing them. They don’t have any internet or electricity, it’s very tough there right now. They need to see that we care about them. They are so happy when I call them and tell them,
“Hey, we are holding protests in New York every day, we are doing sanctions, we are pushing the government to take action.”
They need that feeling, to feel like someone is fighting for them and they are not alone. The second idea was to mobilize our human rights community. It’s a very powerful community, we know how to work with Congress, with the White House, we know how to do advocacy, how to push things forward. It’s a very powerful movement and I think now it’s the right time to protect the Ukrainians – in a few days hundreds of them won’t be with us anymore, we are running out of time. It’s real shit there. If Russians will take over the territory they will then start hunting down all these activists and they have no way out of the country. It’s so complex and there are so many problems, so I think it’s a good opportunity to think about this, to bring attention to that, to mobilize. I believe many people today will go home and will do something- push their representatives, contact some organization, help in some way. And in a few weeks, this will be another problem in New York, there will be a huge amount of refugees coming from Ukraine, so we need to help them. So right now we will need to think about an infrastructure- how to give them shelter, food, clothes. Most of the people don’t have money, because the bank system doesn’t work in Ukraine anymore. They are limited with what they can do.
SWK: What does your organization do when outside of what’s currently happening in Ukraine?
Bogdan: We were founded several years ago. First we started in New York with social events for the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community here, we were the first group to organize the Ukrainian pride group during New York Pride. We do panel discussions, photo exhibitions, bring discussions about the LGBTQ+ situation in Ukraine, lectures in universities. We also work on Capitol Hill with political advocacy helping our folks and we also try to help those who come to America- navigating the process of settling, helping them find a job. This is a grassroots social organization.
Man holds up a poster that reads ‘LGBTQ+ Untied Against Putin.”
SWK: Why did you want to do this event at the Stonewall today?
Bogdan: It’s a spiritual place, I believe it has a lot of connections because The Stonewall symbolizes how a small group of LGBTQ+ community fought for their freedom, and from there it started a big LGBTQ+ and human rights movement in this country and how we ended up with gay rights, with legalized marriage, with all of this protection, with a happy life, with all of this infrastructure in our social life and to be free. I believe that this is the same as what Ukrainians are doing right now. They are fighting for their freedom, Russians want to take away their freedom, and now there is this small group of people fighting in Ukraine and I think this is kind of a connection spiritually.
Polina: Both of us are Ukrainian. We are from Kyiv. We have family back home, so it’s incredibly important for us, as any global Ukrainians, to stand together, to bring our spirits together, to raise awareness, to shout about the situation and influence people and ask them to take action, to help us immediately.
Ivanna: Most importantly, to ask for urgent aid for Ukraine, for NATO to close our skies, they’ve already closed the skies above Ukraine i think, but to continue actually providing aid that’s immediate, not just sanctions, because sanctions are incredibly helpful for long term progress but they are not stopping Putin from bringing the army to our country and from rockets flying into civilian homes.
SWK: How is your family in Kyiv?
Polina: I mean it’s self-explanatory, everyone is terrified, but they are trying to stay strong. We try to be as much in touch with them as possible without adding any additional emotional burden. It’s stressful, some are in the bunkers, some are in a subway, the word stressed doesn’t even do it any justice. It’s actually hard to even find a voice to describe what they are going through right now.
Ivanna: And that’s why it’s important to come out on the streets in your city and help those who can’t really see the daylight right now.
Larissa looks into the camera. She is wearing a traditional Ukrainian headdress called “Vinok.”
Larissa: My family is Ukrainian, various and immediate family have been murdered by Russians or were driven out for fear of being murdered. That is why I grew up in the United States. And I am here because there are so many fucking horrible issues. I can’t speak to it as well as the journalists, but I know that what Russia plans to do to the queer community in Ukraine is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking- literally rounding up and killing people. We have to stand up for humanity and this is a human rights issue. It’s one that I’m really concerned about.
SWK: I saw this post circulating on social media, a friend actually sent it to me. I asked him what he thought about it and he said it’s not hard to believe after what happened in Chechnya in 2017.
Larissa: That’s literally what’s going to happen. Russia is spreading so much disinformation about Ukraine like what they stand for are drugs and gay people, so you definitely should hate Ukrainians. There’s been an information war happening for a decadethat has deep roots, you know it’s real, you’ve seen it happen in other countries. This is a very small thing to do but this is the least I can do right now.
Slava Ukraine. [Glory to Ukraine]
Luca has his arm around Taya. Luca wears a jacket made out of Ukrainian flag colors, Taya holds up a small Ukrainian flag, while the larger one is wrapped around her shoulders.
Taya: We are friends, I was born in America, my parents were born in the States, but all four of my grandparents were born in Ukraine and they all came over here during WWII, so we are happy to see so many people out here. We were out last night as well in Times Square. Really just want to spread awareness, it’s great that there are so many people watching Ukraine and Russia right now. We are just hoping things calm down, hoping that our family that still remains there is safe. It’s shocking to watch what’s happening.
SWK: Are you in contact with your family there? How are they doing?
Taya: Yes, they are in western Ukraine, so it’s a little bit calmer on that side, they are outside of Lviv. So I think the worst of it is in the east and in Kyiv. In Kyiv, we had an awful night last night, an awful day yesterday, but somehow repelled the Russian army which is incredible. So my family at this time is staying put, but hoping it stays OK where they are.
SWK: My great aunt is in Dnepropetrovsk, she said that they are still OK there, although last night there were sirens going off. What brings you here, Luca?
Luca: I’m kind of in a similar position, my parents were born here as well, my grandparents are from Ukraine, they moved here after WWII. We are involved in a Ukrainian scouting organization [Plast] which we’ve been a part of since we were children and that’s kind of an interesting phenomenon. When you think of diaspora and you especially think of people whose parents weren’t even born there, you think that, oh you don’t really have that much of a cultural connection. But there was no Ukraine when our grandparents were fleeing so they brought everything here and they’ve spent all their energy fostering it in the younger generations like ourselves, so there is that sense of pride and it’s that sense that we’ve been feeling for a very long time. I’ve been trying to get people to understand the plight for a very long time and now it’s just pretty hard to see especially in this protest. A lot of non-Ukrainians are here which is something we’ve always wanted to see – an investment and a sense of caring about what’s going on there and what has been going on there. It’s unfortunate it’s under these circumstances, but there is definitely a morale boost that I think a lot of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans are feeling which we’ve never felt before because of that, so we are very glad to be at this particular protest for that reason.
SWK: And obviously The Stonewall Inn is a historic place for the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s a special place to be for sure. Can you tell me more about the scouting organization you are a part of?
Luca: Think of Boy Scouts of America except co-ed and the main activities are related to spending time outdoors, learning camping skills, all that kind of stuff. It’s been a cultural thing for a while. The organization was banned in WWII by the Soviet government, so it was not only a scouting organization, but it was a sort of dissident organization for quite a bit of time and when the Soviet repression was at its most brutal. That was kind of the way that organizations here supported people back home, through organizations like this.
“PEACE” written in Ukrainian/Russian over the Ukrainian flag.
Taya: It is an international organization, it is in Ukraine, in Poland, as far as Australia, Germany, it’s huge in Canada and America so it’s really kind of a finding thing for a lot of us that were born in the States but this is kind of like how we stay close to the culture. Like Luca said, it’s our grandparents that fled and brought it all over the world after WWII.
Luca: So thankfully its function as the opposition movement has been less important since things in Ukraine have been relatively calmer until now, but in other terms it’s just a sort of a cultural thing for you to stick with your community as we get further and further from people that were actually born there.
unknown: I feel that Putin’s aggression and invasion of Ukraine is not only a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, this moment in time really changes everything in the world. I feel like the world is now waking up to a new situation where democracies and autocracies are facing each other. I feel it’s the beginning of the new Cold War-style era where we see the big blocs of Russia and China on the one side cracking down further and further on the freedom of their citizens and a democratic western alliance on the other side. I feel that many other countries will fall into either of these two camps; so while we have seen that for a long time progressing at a slow speed I think it is accelerated dramatically overnight and we all need to be aware of it. This is a really fundamental shift in how the world works and we need to take action to be prepared for what is yet to come. It’s very much a wake-up call for everyone.
Maxim: I am an activist and a nightlife organizer, I am part of the collective WE Together where we do LGBTQ+ events for the entire post-Soviet community. We do events, parties, we are actually doing an event on March 20 at 3$Bill. We are doing this event in full support of Ukraine. 100% of proceeds are going to go to various Ukrainian organizations. I’ve been here for ten years now, even though I’m from Russia I am anti-Putin, I’ve been anti-Putin, that’s why I’m here. I’ve been in support of Ukraine for the last eight years so it’s great to be here even though the circumstances obviously are atrocious, but it’s been escalating for eight years and it’s nice to see that people are finally uniting all together against Putin, doesn’t matter if it’s Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, we all know what it’s like to be oppressed under those crazy old white men, well Putin. And that’s what I’m here for.
Yerkenaz: I work closely with Ukrainian guys, my offshore team, they all work in Ukraine. In the past year I’ve gotten so close to them, they are like a family to me. I really want to show my support and solidarity to them and my heart really breaks just imagining that these guys who are engineers who have no military training, they are on the streets right now fighting for their lives, fighting for their motherland. They have no arms, they have no ammunition and they are fighting for their land. This is the least I can do right now – show the support for my fellow Ukrainians and show that all my thoughts and prayers are with them.
Didar: The reason why I’m here is because what’s happening in Ukraine, invading the countries’ sovereignty is not right, from a human perspective. The other reason I am here is to support the LGBTQ+ community because I am a part of that as well. Also what’s happening is we know how crazy Putin is and what he might do if he invaded Ukraine. He wants it to become a part of Russia again and restore the USSR, next will be Kazakhstan, it’s for sure. I believe that it has to be stopped at the beginning and that the community in every part of the world should act, and they shouldn’t wait until the sanctions are going to do something. They have to pressure their government officials and the world organizations like the UN to make sure that they do something. This needs to happen as soon as possible, we can’t wait until the voting is going to happen. While these things are happening, many people are dying. I’m here with solidarity, I’m here to tell the Ukrainian people that we are supporting them and we are family, because we share the same history, the same path. In this case if Russia invades, the LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable social group. So this has to be stopped.
Man holds up a poster that reads “Queer People Are Responsible For Queer People Everywhere.”
SWK: Do you think a similar thing can really happen to Kazakhstan?
Didar: If you look at the foreign policy of Kazakhstan, the strategy is multi-vectorism. Multi-vectorism states that you have to be in very good standing with all the countries. If there is escalation you cannot go into the war. You have to be able to solve the problem in a diplomatic way. In this case, we cannot choose, we cannot replace our neighbors. That’s why if we are thinking in the way that (former Kazakh president) Nazarbayev was pro-Russian and the new administration, whether they would be pro-other countries, not even necessarily Russia, I think that would reflect negatively on the country. It could be that the same history could repeat itself with Kazakhstan, in this case, they should be really careful in exercising diplomatic negotiations while at the same time protecting the sovereignty of all countries. But again, since the country is very young, it doesn’t have much experience, it doesn’t have much support from the international community, it’s kind of hard for Kazakhstan. It’s right between Russia and China. At the same time, we need to understand what exactly is happening there, we can’t just say,
“Hey you can’t be friends with Russia!”
We cannot do that. Because the same thing might happen to you. It’s best to think about those details depending on the situation. In this case, what I would say for (current Kazakh president) Tokayev, is he has experience in diplomatic missions, he could find a balance between Russia and Kazakhstan, I think he could be respectful but at the same time achieve his own mission while still holding authority over Kazakhstan.
Shane faces a poster that he is holding, which reads “No War. Stand With Ukraine.” Shane’s pink kippah is out of focus in the foreground.
Henry: My name is Henry Shane, I am a 19-year-old political activist. I’m a freshman at The New School, I’m a political science major, and I’m a gay Jewish American. What brought me out here today? First of all, my father’s ancestry is Ukrainian and what is happening in Ukraine is not just affecting the Ukrainian people but this is affecting every single person on this planet. Political warfare is what we are seeing and this was all started and led by Putin and his regime of people. This is not good for anyone. I’ve been so empowered and inspired by the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian activists here today in New York City and The Stonewall Inn. I found out about this on social media, but really I haven’t been involved with anything in the Ukrainian community, but today is the beginning of me going out here to educate myself on the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian history, and heritage. It’s really easy to start a war but it’s very difficult to stop a war, but if we all come out here and show solidarity and march hand in hand with the Ukrainian people together, that is gonna be how we stop this war.
Couple and their son holding up protest posters.
Katia: I have family in Ukraine. There are Ukrainians from the LGBT community who are here today because they know what it’s like to be oppressed. In Russia, you can’t be open and people in Ukraine fear that if Russia has invaded, bad things are going to happen to their friends and minority communities. People are just trying to gather here, spread awareness and do what we can to pressure the government to ask people to donate, to pressure your congressmen, president Biden, so they can somehow help Ukraine, because right now we are left alone. No one in Ukraine wants to be a part of Russia. There is all this false information about it, no one asked them to come. Even people in the east. I know lots of people in the east who fled when they invaded them, no one wanted Russians.
In Crimea, lots of my friends lost their homes, they cannot come back. It was a beautiful place and it’s all gone because they decided that it’s theirs. It’s scary. Right now Ukraine needs to show that they are strong. The rest of the world needs to show that we are fighting for this. Because if it’s not us this time, next time China gets Taiwan, because they are going to be like,
“Oh look, Russia can get Ukraine, now we can do anything we want.”
We need to show that there is a place for democracy and no place for Putin and his autocracy.
Derek: Americans need to stop hiding. They need to come out, support, and show themselves. We need to support Ukraine.
SWK: And you brought your kid here today.
Katia: Oh of course.
Derek: He’s part Ukrainian, Luka.
SWK: Why is it important for our young ones to know about these things?
Katia: Because we are trying to raise him in a world where there is freedom of everything and it’s important to stand for your freedom.
Man holds up a poster that reads “Putin = Hitler. Treat Him Like One.”
Olena holds up a poster that reads “Putin go fuck yourself together w russian warship! #stopthewar.“
Olena: I was hoping for more support from my American friends, cuz I have some but I expected even more.
SWK: What do you mean?
Olena: I mean in the protest.
SWK: What about your close friends?
Olena: No, they are here but I thought I had more friends that would support. I went to all of these protests like BLM, Palestine. And here I am where people offer to talk to me, I don’t need to talk. I need support.
SWK: It’s a sobering realization to have.
Olena: Yeah, it’s not a joke for us. My friend is in the subway right now with her mom and everybody.
SWK: In Kyiv?
SWK: My family is also right now in Ukraine. I was hoping for a bigger turnout myself.
Olena: I know. Times Square too. There was a moment when there were a lot of people, but I was expecting them to block the fucking streets. We want to organize a movie week to collect money for the army and we already started collecting artwork to sell.
Isabele (left) holds up a poster that reads “Stop beign a bitch Putin,”; Lydia holds up a poster that reads “I am Russian and I stand with Ukraine!”
Izabele: How unfair is the war? It’s disgusting. Putin wants to control everything. He wants Russia to get back the territory [Ukraine] without any thinking- he wants to kill everybody. That’s not natural, that’s not humane, it’s awful.
Lydia: I’m Russian and I have to say I am really ashamed of what the president is doing now. And I’m going to cry. Wars like this shouldn’t exist in the 21st century. I hate that people are dying and I want it to stop right now. And I want freedom for Russia because we are all trapped with this psycho [Putin]. And of course, I want them to leave Ukraine immediately, leave them their territory, their country, and their freedom too.