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The first LGBT shelter in Ukraine forced to close down


It looked like any other oriental-style building, but a four-bedroom apartment in the capital of Ukraine was, for five years, a crucial lifeline for the country’s LGBT community.

Now it will disappear.

The LGBT shelter in Kiev has run out of money and was forced to close its doors, cutting off a protection bag in a war-torn country where citizens and officials disagree over queer rights.

The shelter, opened by the non-governmental organization LGTB Insight in 2014, became the first shelter that specifically houses queer people. But the Kyiv Post reported that organizers doubled the shelter after a fight for more funding.

LGBT Ukrainians that are fleeing military conflict or are not accepted by their families any longer have a safe space.

LGBT people, displaced by the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, have taken taxis for years and have walked on foot to reach the shelter.

Ukraine was divided, the east wanted to align with Russia and the west with the European Union.

It created a mosaic of occupied territories that put eastern Ukrainians who fled westward to escape the conflict between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists at test. The conflict has claimed around 100,000 lives, which human rights groups have described as a humanitarian crisis.

But the million displaced citizens, according to the United Nations, were discriminated against when applying for housing and employment. They blame the war.

It is estimated that 8,000 people attended the biggest parade of the Pride of Ukraine.

The demand for a safety net for LGBT Ukrainians came after Donbass, overwhelmed by the riots, was taken by pro-Russian forces in 2014.

The controversial Russian law of 2013 that prohibits materials that are considered to promote homosexuality was extended to Donbass, where legislation that reflects that of Russia was implemented and only intensifies the need for LGBT people to emigrate again.

The insight needed to act. The organizers first opened the shelter, a gray apartment block in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, in the summer of 2014.

Financial aid was exhausted in 2016, which left organizers struggling to get money to survive.

Insight opened the shelter that housed about nine refugees at a time, 15 at most, each with three months of stay, as well as legal and psychological support.

Clothing, medications, public transportation passes and assistance in finding work were also provided.

Around 115 refugees stayed in the small shelter for five years.

However, that support structure has come to an end. Western donor financial aid ran out in 2016.

The organizers rushed to keep the shelter open by redirecting funds from other Insight projects. But that tactic proved unsustainable, which led to the closure of the shelter.

A refugee, Chris Brilling, escaped not only from eastern Ukraine, but from an abusive relationship.

“He didn’t hit me often, but psychological abuse happened every day,” said the 34-year-old.

“I tried to escape many times, but it never worked because he convinced me not to leave.”

Brilling hid his last check and fled to Kiev. The shelter provided him with invaluable financial support while seeking a more permanent residence.

“I could afford to go to a sale and buy some new and beautiful things, and in this way create a new image, a new identity, or restore it.”

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