Ukraine to host first LGBTQ+ film festival despite war

Tuesday, 7 March 2023 10:12 GMT

Ukrainian Molodist and Sunny Bunny film festivals programmer Bohdan Zhuk poses for a photo in Adalar, Turkey, in October 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Olga Gusiatynska, handover via Bohdan Zhuk

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Organisers of the Sunny Bunny festival say safety issues will be paramount at the event due to be held during Pride month

By Enrique Anarte

The organisers of Ukraine's first LGBTQ+ film festival say one of their biggest challenges will be ensuring the safety of people attending the event scheduled to be held in Kyiv during Pride month.

Many cultural events have been cancelled since Russia invaded Ukraine just over a year ago, but backers of the Sunny Bunny festival said they were determined to highlight LGBTQ+ rights by staging the event as planned in June.

"The festival will be for the queer community, who are still here, fighting for our freedom, our lives and our rights, like anyone else," Bohdan Zhuk, one of the festival's organisers, told Openly in a video call from Kyiv.

He said safety issues would be paramount.

"If there's an air siren, we need to make sure that there's a shelter in the venue, in the cinema, or somewhere nearby – normally, metro stations would work for that," Zhuk said, conceding that some people might be wary about travelling to the war-torn country.

"We're expecting to have guests representing films at this festival, but obviously not that many people will want to risk their lives," he added, saying logistics could also be an issue.

The conflict has increased the time it takes to travel to Ukraine, turning previous two-hour plane trips from other European cities like Berlin into long journeys across several borders.

@openlynews What is it like to organise a queer film festival - the first in your country’s history - whilst it’s being invaded? Meet Bohdan Zhuk, one or the organisers of Ukraine’s first-ever LGBTQ+ film festival: “Sunny Bunny”, set to take place during Pride month next June despite the war. #ukraine #ukrainewar #kyiv #lgbtukraine ♬ Love Of My Life - Metrow Ar

As preparations gather pace, organisers plan to launch an international crowdfunding campaign this week for the festival, which takes its name from the LGBTQ-themed section of Kyiv's international film festival Molodist.

Zhuk said his experience of organising the section had also prepared him for attacks from far-right groups opposed to LGBTQ+ rights in Ukraine, where same-sex couples are not allowed to marry or adopt children.

"We have had some minor episodes before, not regularly, we haven't had any in many years, but a few times it has happened and we need to make sure everyone is safe," Zhuk said.

LGBTQ+ campaigners in Ukraine say the war has accelerated growing acceptance, partly due to gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers and volunteers defending the country against Russia.

In August 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy opened the door to the possibility of same-sex civil partnerships.

Festival organisers plan to host film screenings beyond Kyiv, depending on the security situation, dedicate a section to LGBTQ+ people in the military and campaign for same-sex civil unions, Zhuk said.

"One of the ideas of the festival is to contribute to this process of wider acceptance and understanding of diversity, queerness and difference," he said.

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(Reporting by Enrique Anarte in Berlin; Editing by Lucy Middleton and Helen Popper. Please credit Openly, the LGBTQ+ news website from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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