Ukrainian Kyiv-based pride organization asks Canadians to open homes to LGBTQ refugees

CBC News

Courtney Dickson · CBC News · Posted: Jan 06, 2023

Simon Fraser University professor Svitlana Matviyenko was in Kyiv on New Year's Eve when Russia fired missiles into the city. 

"It was a very strange experience, obviously. And scary in many ways," she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

She and many others took cover in old subway stations and listened to the sounds of explosions above.

Next month will mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. While many have stayed in the country, refugees continue to flee in search of a safer, more peaceful life. In the first two weeks of the invasion, an estimated three million people fled.

Canada has taken in more than 132,000 Ukrainian refugees, but some organizations are still looking for hosts to house more, particularly refugees who identify as LGBTQ.

Bradley Gionet says he's had about 20 different refugees in and out of his home in Chilliwack, B.C., since April 2022. 

He's also helped co-ordinate housing for more than 250 refugees, 75 of whom identified as LGBTQ. 

"I don't think this is stopping anytime soon," he said. 

"I just keep on keeping on. I keep putting the requests out."

KyivPride is now calling on Canadians to open their home to LGBTQ Ukrainian refugees, in particular. 

"At this time, our organizations are actively relocating the most marginalized of Ukraine's LGBTQ community members and have received over 100 applications," their host registration form reads. 

"If you are an LGBTQ Canadian or a proud ally living in any part of the country, we invite you to assist us with temporary accommodations and/or settlement support for a queer person, couple or family from Ukraine. "

While there is little data on how many of Ukraine's 41 million citizens are LGBTQ, an Ipsos survey suggests anywhere between three and 10 per cent of people identify as LGBTQ globally.

That would mean potentially anywhere between 1.23 million and 4.1 million Ukrainians identify as LGBTQ.

Gionet, who isn't directly involved with KyivPride but has been helping it find housing, says that while all refugees face struggles such as adapting to a new environment, navigating government bureaucracy and finding a job, LGBTQ people face additional challenges during resettlement. 

"They're coming from a part of the world where they're not accepted," he said. 

"It's sort of breaking down that barrier of how do I connect with somebody in Canada that's going to respect me and provide safe space."

"For the first little while, you kind of need somewhere to lay your head."

He said finding people to offer housing for refugees during the early months of the war in Ukraine was relatively easy. But now, the conflict overseas is no longer top of mind.

"People have kind of tuned out."

But, he said, housing is still badly needed, especially for marginalized people.

"We have a very strong support network here as far as helping LGBTQ [refugees], and we've become a little bit of a destination here in the west of Canada.

"I just need houses for people."