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In Ukraine, Children’s Book Featuring Lesbian Parents Met With Threats, Fears Of Violence

Tony Wesolowsky

A book highlighting different types of families, including one headed by a lesbian couple, has been pulled from a large book fair in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv over fears of possible violence.

The book, Maya And Her Moms, has sparked an outcry on social media and elsewhere, with religious-conservative and nationalist groups lambasting the book and liberals defending it.

Ukrainian authorities have increased their support for gay rights since a pro-Western government took power following the Euromaidan protests in 2014. In 2015, a law was passed banning workplace discrimination against the LGBT community.

In what was seen as a positive step, a gay-pride parade went off largely without incident in Kyiv in July, a far cry from a similar event in 2015.

But critics say homophobic attitudes remain widespread, as illustrated by the potentially violent reaction to the book, written by the well-known Ukrainian author Larysa Denysenko.

Maya And Her Moms tells the story of 17 children from 17 different types of families, including Maya's, which is headed by a lesbian couple. The book also tells the story of a child conceived through artificial insemination; another whose parents are migrants; and a child from a divorced family.

I try to convey the message that a child needs a loving family where they feel protected, and it does not matter how it is labeled by anyone."

-- Author Larysa Denysenko

Denysenko has indicated that showing that families come in different sizes and types was not her only intention.

"I try to convey the message that a child needs a loving family where they feel protected, and it does not matter how it is labeled by anyone," she reportedly wrote on her Facebook page.

Thanks to her efforts to promote understanding and tolerance, Denysenko -- along with two other Ukrainian authors, Iyubko Deresh and Mariana Savka, -- was named a "goodwill ambassador" of the United Nations on September 9.

Maya And Her Moms was to be featured at the Lviv Book Forum on September 15 during a discussion on children’s literature but was pulled on September 11 after the event's organizers and city officials received warnings.

"Publisher," the Ukrainian publishing firm behind the book, explained that 15 organizations, including a local branch of the ultranationalist Right Sector, had sent a letter to the book forum’s organizers earlier this month, urging them to drop the book from the event.

The letter, which was also sent to local authorities in Lviv, including Mayor Andriy Sadovyy, ends with a direct threat:

“If you fail to act, we will be forced to take all possible measures to prevent this blatantly provocative act to take place in Lviv.”

Denysenko said while she was not named in the letter, it was clear the threat was directed at her.

Publisher stated in a Facebook post on September 11 that "this is the first time in history of Ukrainian literature that a children’s book and its author have been threatened along with the publisher."

Publisher urged "the public, media, and law enforcement agencies" to take such threats seriously and for proper security to be provided at the book fair.

Writing on her Facebook page, Denysenko said she believes she was targeted because "I oppose violence and advocate tolerance." She said he had been targeted by "at least 15 ultra-right-wing organizations and the church, which calls me a 21st-century witch."

Without giving specifics, Denysenko told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that there had been many threats and that she had expected them.

One group opposed to the book was the National Corps of the Lviv Region. Writing on Facebook on September 5, the group said literature was becoming "a tool of...propaganda that not only destroys the essence of art, but also transforms it into a mechanism for the destruction of moral and universal values."

The scandal gained added traction after Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the Ukrainian deputy prime minister on European and Euroatlantic Integration, chimed in on Twitter:  "Shocked by threats to participants @ lvivbookforum. Our solidarity and love are hundreds of times stronger than your hatred."

She wasn’t the only Ukrainian politician to defend Denysenko.

Svitlana Zalishchuk, a leading member of Ukraine’s parliament, also stood up for the author.

Also supporting the author was Myroslava Gongadze, a journalist and wife of the journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was abducted and murdered in 2000 in Ukraine.

Writing on her Facebook page on September 12, Gondadze said: "Europeanism is civilization, it is respect for personal choices, it is the acceptance of otherness and love of neighbor, whatever the convictions, color or sexual orientation."

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