As the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics was about to start on 7 February 2014, Ukrainian migrants rallied in front of the Russian embassy in London, joined by the members of the LGBT community later.
Over 30 Ukrainians gathered in front of the Russian embassy today, continuing a series of protests in support of human rights in Ukraine and against Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and meddling in their home country’s affairs. The location (which has seen a multitude of protests most notably by Russian, Syrian, LGBT activist groups, Pussy Riot and Greenpeace supporters) was chosen because of the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi at the same time.
As usual, the protesters sang the national anthem and chanted various slogans: ‘Putin, hands off Ukraine!’, ‘Putin, Ukraine is not Russia’, ‘One Belorussia is enough!’, ‘Putin, go out’ (in English, Ukrainian and Russian’, ‘Bandu het’!’ (‘Down with the gang’). Some of the cars driving past the demonstration honked in support. One of the protesters has handed to the participants some colour printouts of (in-)famous paintings by the Russian artist Vasily Slonov which represent a grim satirical interpretation of Russian cultural symbols in the light of the upcoming Olympics.
After about half an hour, when all the slogans have already been repeated a few times, a little surprise happened. It was announced that members of the LGBT community would hold a rally of their own in the same space in front of the embassy. The protest organised by the London Gay Men Chorus was planned to draw attention to violations of LGBT rights in Russia by ‘singing songs of solidarity’ as the Olympics opening ceremony begins. A small group of LGBT protesters with rainbow flags approached the Ukrainian group and stood on the left to them.
‘Are we supposed to share space with the faggots?’ some of the migrants grumbled while moving a bit further down the road. ‘It doesn’t matter, they are protesting just as we do,’ others said. Some of the organisers of the rally suggested that ‘we don’t have to join them’ and that ‘if someone doesn’t want to stand next to them, you can just move a bit further’. The Ukrainian group that started to look a bit tired earlier has drawn itself together, waving the flags and chanting more universal slogans like ‘Democracy for Russia and Ukraine!’ and ‘Boycott the bloody Olympics’, seeing that they were being filmed by the new journalists.
In the end, the Ukrainians sang the anthem again. This was followed by a triple chanting of the slogan ‘Slava Ukraini! – Heroyam slava!’ (‘Glory to Ukraine! – Glory to heroes!’), and another, perhaps more notorious ‘Ukraina ponad use!’ (‘Ukraine above all’, an adaptation of ‘Deutschland über alles’) – all this while still standing next to the LGBT group. After they finished, the Ukrainians headed to the Ukrainian embassy. The LGBT protesters stayed to sing their songs.