WITH world attention focused on the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine, a group of European MPs has said life for LGBTI people in Crimea has worsened significantly since the region joined Russia.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, a forum for European politicians, says Russia’s so-called ‘gay propaganda’ laws are now in place in Crimea, exacerbating already-tough living conditions for lesbian and gay people.

The Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea came under Russian control in March following an armed struggle by forces loyal to Moscow and a controversial referendum.

The region’s new authorities introduced Russian laws, subsequently banning April’s planned pride march in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula.

The brainchild of St Petersburg politician, Vitaly Milonov, the laws don’t explicitly ban homosexuality but do punish “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”.

They have been widely criticised intentionally and led to a number of high-profile political boycotts from the recent Winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia.

Milonov now wants to go further, banning gay and lesbian organisations and clubs, setting up a police force to monitor moral misdemeanours and shutting down LGBTI websites.

Co-president of the LGBT Intergroup and Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ulrike Lunacek MEP, said the spread of the laws to Crimea and the calls for their expansion was worrying.

“It shows these laws started a dangerous trend of fear mongering and inciting hatred, whereby some wrongly think that it’s alright to restrict the rights of a group they dislike,” he said.

“The EU and the Council of Europe need to maintain pressure on Russian authorities.”

The situation for LGBTI people in Ukraine – even those in areas not currently in the conflict zone – is still far from ideal.

While 2013 saw the first-ever gay pride march in the capital city of Kiev, a survey taken last year by market researchers GfK showed 80 per cent of people polled in Ukraine had negative attitudes towards gay people.

Another 2013 poll, by the Ukrainian Gay Alliance NGO and the Ukrainian State Sociology Institute, reported 63 per cent of surveyed Ukrainians said homosexuality was a perversion or mental disease with only nine percent supporting same-sex marriage.

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