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Destination Kyiv: advice for LGBT+ Eurovision fans heading to Ukraine

Rob Holley

So, great as Kyiv is – you’re gonna need to do a bit of ground work. This isn’t a weekend in Berlin.

Read the British Foreign Office’s advice on Ukraine (they’ve put together a handy Eurovision guide) and be aware that events in Ukraine are fast moving. You should monitor this travel advice regularly. Take your passport everywhere.

Be informed. Put aside a Sunday morning to brush up on the situation with Crimea – obviously it runs a lot deeper than the Russia’s contestant pulling out of a campy singing comp, so prepare yourself with a little bit of knowledge and be mindful of what you say.

The majority of Eurovision ticket sales outside of Ukraine were from Britain, and whilst there’s no official data on the sexuality of ticket-holders, you can bet on Conchita’s beard that a vast majority of travelling fans will identify as queer. 

Although homosexuality isn’t prohibited by law, public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and public displays of affection may attract negative attention. There’s no provision under Ukrainian legislation guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, so always have your wits about you.

There were lots of openly queer women in the gay bar and club that we went to in Kyiv recently, though I did not see any evidence of women-only spaces.

Related: What should gay Eurovision tourists heading to Kyiv expect?

Upsettingly, some of my trans friends will not be attending Eurovision after having been at consecutive contests for a number of years. Clearly there are trans people in Kyiv, but they have nowhere near the visibility they have in the United Kingdom.

If you want to enjoy getting pissed in a safe space with like-minded fans then it’s crucial that you purchase a Euroclub pass in advance. This ticket-only venue acts as a hub for the fans during the fortnight. It’s open day and night, you’ll see other fans, delegations and contestants, plus there’ll be quizzes, club nights, and quite possibly the most entertaining karaoke you’ll ever see in your life.

Make this your base camp. Get a ticket NOW while they’re €40 and before they sell out.  

Outside of the Eurovision bubble there’s lots to do in Kyiv. The younger generations are friendly, speak great English and are very chatty. Some of the older Kyivites in shops, restaurants and museums can be blunt – customer service skills weren’t necessarily something you needed to pick up in the Soviet Union, so this brashness comes from not having a capitalism-tactic Saturday job at Argos aged 16 like us Brits had.

The currency of Ukraine is the Hryvnia which is nigh on impossible to get hold of in the UK, let alone pronounce. Thankfully there are plenty of ATMs in Kyiv. Don’t withdraw crazy amounts as it’s difficult to convert back to Sterling, besides you can get by on a few quid a day. Alcohol is not free (Malmo 2013 reference there – glad you got it) but Kyiv is super cheap.

Rob Holley

The Chicken Kiev has nothing to do with the Ukrainian capital, but many restaurants offer it to tourists because… tourists. If you want traditional Ukrainian food try the borscht. Restaurants also offer all manner of traditional Eastern European dishes like stewed goose tongues and Volyn-style bovine testicles – and for the less adventurous there are plentiful burger joints and pizzerias too.

Take your passport everywhere.

If you found any of this article helpful please consider donating to Kyiv Pride and bear in mind the brilliant and challenging work that the LGBTQ+ activists in Ukraine are doing. 

Let’s go out there and make them proud.

Rob Holley visited Kyiv in March 2017 – you can follow him on Twitter @RobHolley. The trip was organised by the British Council and British Embassy in Kyiv, with support from the GREAT Britain campaign.

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