KIEV - The way his dad found out was not good. On the other hand it was his own fault. He'd left his laptop open, and when his father came to visit him at his student apartment he started clicking around on it and found pictures of him kissing his boyfriend Petja.
First reaction – fury. Then shame. After that came the disciplinary measures: no more apartment, back to mom and dad's where he was grounded and sent to therapy to "cure" him. Shenja's father reasoned that it was a phase; if he could just keep his 21-year-old son from seeing his boyfriend then the perversity would stop. A main concern for his father, Shenja says, was "making damn sure nobody found out about it." Including Shenja's mother. A gay son? Unthinkable. The disgrace!
Actually, "gay" is not a term used in Ukraine. It's too direct. "Men who have sex with other men" is the way it's officially put, so that it sounds more like a practice rather than an orientation. Practices can be changed. In this country, homosexuality is still taboo, and many Ukrainians – including many politicians – consider it a sickness. As regards acceptance of same-sex relationships, Ukraine is behind even Russia. It is the most homophobic country in Europe.
That France, the U.S., Germany are presently legislating on marriage for gays and lesbians, adoption rights, and other issues pertaining to legal homosexual unions, sounds – in Kiev, Donetsk, Lviv or Odessa – like news from Mars.
Anna Dogopol, of the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Kiev, who works "for sexual democracy and the rights of lesbian women" and is herself a lesbian, says that: "In the Ukraine, even civil partnerships are considered a perversion of European law."
Which may be the reason why two drafts for legislation – one that would make "homosexual propaganda" in the arts and media, the other that would make any suggestion that homosexual relationships are equal to traditional ones, jailable offences – are currently in development. Both drafts take their inspiration from the Russian anti-gay bill and aim to ensure that the subject of homosexuality is silenced in public, in schools, and in the medical community.
According to the initiators of the competing laws, this is about protecting children. What they're not saying is that Ukraine is the country in Europe with the most steeply climbing rate of HIV infection. Homosexuals are a high-risk group. So logically, one should be talking about homosexuality, at least in the context of AIDS prevention and treatment. That would protect children.
In Shenja and Petja's case, the attempts at silencing and covering up ultimately didn't work. For about nine months, the lovers could only meet for walks when 27-year-old Petja, a manager, had his lunch break. But now they have found a way to live together – incognito, outside the city, and with a live-in girl as a front. They tell people they're flat sharing, but both men profess anxiety in case somebody finds out the real situation.
Can they walk down the street holding hands? They've tried it. People stare. Can they kiss in public? Out of the question. "It's too dangerous, even in the city you'd probably get beaten up, and elsewhere you would for sure," says Petja. And it's only gotten worse since plans for the new laws got underway. "What the laws say to people here – who in any case are overwhelmingly homophobic – is that it's okay to hate gays and lesbians. They cement and strengthen prejudice."
The men refused to be photographed for this article, even for a German paper. There was a skinhead cousin in Germany, he might see it, and let people back home know.
"Love Against Homosexuality"
Thirty percent of the parents of gays and lesbians in Ukraine don't know their children are homosexual, and of those parents who do know only about half accept the situation. That's according to a poll conducted by Nash Mir, a human rights organization that supports gays, lesbians, bis and transsexuals. The group is largely financed from outside Ukraine, and its spokesperson, Andryi Maymulachin, says that he is ever more cautious, "even more so than I already was." The 42-year-old Ukrainian says it took him a long time to come out, and that before he took a trip to Russia he didn't even know that gays or lesbians existed. Then in Moscow in an illegal magazine he saw a picture of two gays touching each other and knew instinctively that "this was about me."
Last year a Gay Pride Parade was supposed to take place in Kiev but the police said they couldn't guarantee security so it was cancelled. Instead there was a press conference in a parking lot around the corner from the Nash Mir office attended by journalists and rowdies who beat two activists up badly.
This year in May there's supposed to be a demonstration in favor of human rights and minorities. The first threats against the demonstration are starting to appear on extreme right Russian websites. In Kiev right-wingers and "right-thinking" folks demonstrate regularly, their slogan being "Love Against Homosexuality" as if the former were an opposite pole from the latter.
Kiev Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church says with regard to homosexuals that Christians shouldn't forget why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Archbishop Sviatoslav of the Greek-Catholic Church says that homosexuality is "as grave a sin as murder."
According to the UN, some 400,000 people in the Ukraine are infected with HIV. That's ten times as many as in Germany, although Ukraine's population (46 million) is only a little over half the size of Germany's.
Ukraine is a country where many doctors are reluctant to treat AIDS patients, where international donors invest three times what Ukraine does in the prevention of and fight against HIV and AIDs, and where people with AIDs either keep quiet about it or don't even know they have it. This is a country where drug addicts, street kids, and prostitutes are increasingly passing the virus on to heterosexuals. Homosexuals are one of many high-risk groups but not the largest. However – as if one stigma weren't enough – all the blame is placed at their door.
Shenja deals with this every day. After he got his law degree, he started doing outreach work for the Gay Alliance. Afternoons and evenings, when gay couples take walks in downtown Kiev – here amid all the tourists they're less noticeable – he goes up to them to offer help, tells them what the risks are, hands out condoms as discreetly as a dealer hands over drugs. Being a homosexual in Ukraine often makes him feel bad, he says, "but if I didn't do anything I'd feel worse."
Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.
[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.
• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.
• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.
• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.
• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.
• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.
• Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials
.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."
— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.
📈💥 IN OTHER NEWS
Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians
The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:
⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.
☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.
🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.
Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com
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