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Hundreds attend tightly-policed gay pride march in central Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine (UPDATED) – More than 700 gay rights activists held a peaceful march through central Kiev on Sunday, June 12, amid an unprecedented security operation in the ex-Soviet country where homophobia remains widespread.

Sunday's march was the 3rd such gay pride rally in Ukraine but the first ever to be held in the center of the capital Kiev.

Several thousand police and National Guard officers lined the route during the event, which lasted about 20 minutes.

"They did an excellent job on security this year. That's unprecedented," said one of the organizers, Anna Sharygina.

"According to our information all the participants got home safely without problems," she said.

National police spokeswoman Katia Dekanoidze told Interfax-Ukraine news agency that 57 people were briefly detained on the sidelines of the march.

Participants held "KyivPride" placards and banners bearing the slogan "LGBT rights are human rights."

Some carried rainbow flags and Ukrainian national flags and chanted "Human rights come first!"

"Rights should be respected irrespective of genre and orientation," said 25-year-old activist Darina Kovalyuk.

"In a modern society, no one should face discrimination for these reasons."

A number of Ukrainian politicians took part, including two from President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary bloc.

A spokesman for the Pravy Sektor ultranationalist movement Artyom Skoropadski had warned on Facebook that the march could turn into a "bloodbath."

Before the march began, a group of 5 protesters held up a placard saying "Kiev opposes propaganda of sodomy, I am against gay pride in Ukraine."

Police surrounded them and moved them away from the marchers.

At the end of the peaceful march, some activists sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

'Civilized and tolerant'

Homosexuality was illegal in the USSR and homophobia is still rampant in Ukraine where the Orthodox Church has a strong influence.

The march went ahead after Amnesty International rights group sent an open letter to Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko calling for him to make sure the event was adequately policed. Signatories including Ukraine's Eurovision Song Contest winner Jamala.

Klitschko responded with a statement saying he would do everything he could to keep the peace, urging both activists and opponents to behave in a "civilized and tolerant way."

The previous year's gay pride event – held far from the center – lasted only a few minutes before stone-throwing nationalist protesters clashed with the participants and at least 10 people were injured and 25 detained.

In 2013 a small march on the outskirts of Kiev went ahead peacefully but a 2014 march was cancelled after police refused to ensure participants' safety. – Dmytro Gorshkov, AFP / Rappler.com