Members of a Russian-speaking LGBTQ group hoisted Ukrainian Flags in the air and repeatedly called President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” as they marched along Brooklyn’s Riegelmann Boardwalk on March 19 in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
RUSA LGBTQ+, a local community of queer Russian speakers and immigrants from former parts of the Soviet Union, organized the march and rally in Brighton Beach to show the local residents the importance of supporting Ukrainians during Russia’s ongoing assault. For decades, Brighton Beach has been home to countless immigrants from Russia and several other eastern European countries — hence its nickname of “Little Odessa.”
Marchers stepped off from the Coney Island section of the boardwalk and walked east to Brighton Beach, stopping several times to sing and dance to Ukrainian music.
As the march progressed, chants of “No Putin, no war!” and “Get out of Ukraine!” reverberated down the boardwalk — rare sounds in an otherwise sleepy neighborhood — and pedestrians frequently stopped to record videos or clap along. The marchers, including many Ukrainians, also repeated the controversial demand to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine — something the United States and other western countries have strongly opposed due to the risks of a global war.
The event somewhat resembled the annual Brighton Beach Pride March, which is hosted by RUSA LGBTQ+ and similarly involves a march and rally along the boardwalk. This time around, the march concluded on the boardwalk across from Tatiana’s, a beachfront Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach. Folks proceeded to huddle around a bench for a series of public speeches.
“Russian people did not start the war with Ukraine,” said Yelena Goltsman, who serves as the co-president of RUSA LGBTQ+. “It was Putin who did it. Let’s make sure we separate the two.”
Councilmember Ari Kagan, who hails from Belarus and represents Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, and Sea Gate, drew applause as he delivered remarks to the crowd. Attorney General Letitia James also relayed a message of support.
New York City LGBTQ activist Adam Eli, who also joined the march, reassured folks that many Americans stand with LGBTQ immigrants — despite the prevalence of xenophobia across the country.
“I just want to say that you have all the support and love from so many queer people and so many queer Americans,” Eli said. “We all know what happens to queer people under Putin’s regime and it’s imperative… that we allow immigrants to come here.”
Goltsman underscored the urgent need for resources in Ukraine and encouraged folks to assist with donations.
“We have to get help from the west,” Goltsman said.
The march was the latest of many public demonstrations opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The boardwalk has hosted other similar protests in recent weeks and LGBTQ Ukrainians organized a large rally at the Stonewall Inn on February 27. Protests against the war have popped up in numerous cities around the world — including in Russia, despite the Kremlin’s fierce crackdown on dissent.
“Let’s make sure we know that hundreds of thousands of people in Russia are risking their lives — their freedom — to go out on the street and say no to war,” Goltsman said. “These people are brave and eventually they will overcome.”
RUSA LGBTQ+’s website features several options for those interested in helping the Ukrainian people.