At least seven people were injured and more than 20 arrested Saturday in Kiev as scuffles broke out between members of a rare Ukrainian gay pride march and their nationalist opponents.
The socially-conservative country — locked in a bruising war with pro-Russian insurgents — is seeking a closer alliance with Europe and remains keen to promote civil liberties freely enjoyed in much of the West.
The "March of Equality" parade staged at a scenic stretch of the Dniepr River on the northern outskirts of Kiev — only the second march in Ukraine\’s post-Soviet history — was scheduled to last only 10 minutes out of security concerns.
Members of the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) nationalist organisation — often seen spearheading the demonstrations that toppled a Russian-backed president last year — had on this occasion threatened to disrupt the protest and defend more conservative traditions.
But around 100 activists still showed up for the rally after being informed of its location by the main organisers only a few hours in advance.
"This march shows that we exist. We are fighting for equal rights that, unlike others in Ukraine, we currently lack," said a 31-year-old woman who agreed to identify herself only as Vira out of concerns for both her safety and future career prospects.
"I am very frightened," she admitted. "But I am also very proud of myself — proud that I came out and so many people supported us."
The scuffles broke out when the police tried to keep a few dozen young men who had jumped out of a bus bearing Right Sektor insignia from attacking the peaceful marchers.
Ambulance workers said one police woman suffer a neck injury. The Kiev police department said five other officers and one far right group member were also slightly hurt.
The police statement added that 25 nationalists — many of them clad in black balaclava — had been detained and taken in for questioning.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on the eve of the protest that he fully supported the marchers but would refrain from attending the event.
"As far as the \’March of Equality\’ is concerned, I view it from both the perspective of a Christian and a pro-European president. I believe these are two completely compatible ideas," Poroshenko told reporters.
"I will not be taking part," said the 49-year-old leader. "But I see no grounds for someone to try and disturb it, since this is the constitutional right of every Ukrainian citizen."