After several failed attempts, Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday backed a bill that bans discrimination against gay workers – a pre-condition for the country to be considered for visa-free travel to the EU.
Passed after reassurances that it would not lead to same-sex marriage, the move marks a milestone in this predominantly Orthodox Christian society.
“It is important to show that Ukraine is a European country, not a crass Soviet state where you can still feel the Russian influence that invaded post-Soviet countries,” said Volodymyr Ariev, MP, of the ‘Petro Poroshenko Bloc’.
“It is difficult but Ukraine is trying to escape from a post-Soviet reality so it can enter a European one.”
But other members of parliament are less enthusiastic.
“Our society has different opinions on this issue,” said Oleh Medunitsya, MP of the ‘People’s Front’.
“It is hugely polarised. I think the public reacted in a severe way to this draft law. And I don’t like the way the document was put to a vote. It was an ad-hoc procedure.”
Homosexuality itself has been legal in Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union, of which it was part, in 1991.
Thursday’s vote comes as Ukraine completes a package of measures required by Brussels for visa-free travel to be considered.
Our correspondent in Kyiv, Maria Korenyuk, said: “To travel to Europe without visas, Ukrainians will first need the relevant recommendations of the European Commission and then a positive decision from the European Parliament. Kyiv hopes a visa-free regime with Europe will be introduced in 2016. But even then, only biometric passport holders would have the right to cross the European border without visas.”