This is one in an occasional series of dispatches about life amid the war in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — On a gray and rainy afternoon, about 35 people settled into velvety red seats in a small and stuffy underground movie theater. Two carried rainbow umbrellas.
When the lights went down, the cartoon images that flashed on the screen were a reminder that this was a unique moment in time: a soldier preparing for war — then kissing another soldier of the same sex.
The sold-out screening, a Ukrainian queer short film retrospective, was one of dozens held in Kyiv as part of the country’s first-ever queer film festival. A landmark event in its own right, the seven-day event, which ends Wednesday, also took place during a war — one that rights advocates said has increased visibility and acceptance of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“It feels somehow more free” since Russia invaded, said the festival’s director, Bohdan Zhuk, 34. “I think we feel more powerful. I certainly do.”
L.G.B.T.Q. people in Ukraine routinely face discrimination, and Pride events in the country have in the past been marred by threats and violence from anti-gay protesters and far-right groups. But in the 16 months since the war began, advocates say the sight of L.G.B.T.Q. people in uniform fighting against Russian invaders appears to have helped bolster acceptance.
“It’s also more generally the wider acceptance by way of realizing that we have one common enemy,” Mr. Zhuk said. “And that’s not, you know, the gays or the lesbians or” queer people.
“It’s Russians who are trying to kill us all,” he said.
The Sunny Bunny LGBTQIA+ Film Festival is an offshoot of the Molodist International Festival, which began in 1970 and is devoted to promoting young filmmakers. Mr. Zhuk said he had thought about organizing an LGBTQIA+ festival for a few years but was delayed by the pandemic.
A full-scale invasion might not seem like an opportune moment, either. While it has “been really difficult to organize,” Mr. Zhuk said, “it’s also the right time to do it.”
War affects marginalized groups differently — for example, L.G.B.T.Q. members of the military do not have the same protections as straight soldiers. The conversations prompted by the more than 60 films being shown at the festival are critical, he said.
Ukraine does not recognize marriage rights for same-sex couples, nor does it have a statute allowing them to enter into civil unions. Calls to grant those couples equal rights have grown in part because of the sacrifices of L.G.B.T.Q. soldiers in the war.
The festival also gives Ukraine’s queer community a way to mark Pride Month at a time when parades are banned in the country for security reasons.
Far-right groups also pose a threat — the Zhovten Cinema, which is hosting the festival, was set on fire in 2014 during an L.G.B.T.Q. film showing — and concerns have run high that Sunny Bunny might be targeted.
“Fortunately it’s been fine so far,” said Mr. Zhuk, who wore all black save for a small yellow pin of an anti-tank barricade known as a “hedgehog” and a shoulder bag emblazoned with QUEER in white letters. The response has been “mostly great and amazing and supportive,” he added.
He attributed that to progress both before the full-scale war and “more progress over the past year,” like President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine raising the prospect of civil partnerships. But there is still more work to be done, he said, which is why the festival is “really necessary.”
In addition to offering an opportunity to see films that might otherwise not be available, the festival aims to increase queer visibility and promote broader acceptance at a dangerous time.
“We are in a state of war right now,” said Anastasia Karpenko, 20, as she sat outside Zhovten Cinema. “We should not be fighting among each other, among our people.”
The festival was important, she said, to “show we are people.”
“Just people,” she added emphatically, in English.
Brendan Hoffman and Stanislav Kozliuk contributed reporting.