In the smoking area at the back of an otherwise unremarkable building in Kiev, you’ll find the beating heart of the LGBTI movement in Ukraine: Olena Shevchenko, co-founder and director of Insight, an organisation dedicated to the rights and well-being of LGBTQI people in Ukraine . While rolls a cigarette, she answers calls from within Ukraine and abroad, has her photo taken for a publication by the UN and puts people in touch with each other.
Almost ten years ago Olena founded Insight together with two friends. Thanks to the efforts of a small team of colleagues and a large group of volunteers, this initiative has grown into a national network that for many LGBTQI people in Ukraine is something between a family and a life raft. "Under the influence of Russian anti-gay propaganda, the climate has not become more friendly in recent years," says Olena. "Most of us can not be open about our sexuality without the risk of bullying, being fired, or violence." Moreover, the war in the east of the country is used as an excuse for not doing anything about anti-LGBTQI violence. “'Your human rights are just not a priority', they say," explains Olena.