Polish LGBT+ library helps queer Ukrainians safely navigate notorious ‘LGBT-free zones’

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, more than 2.4 million refugees have fled across the border to Poland.

In order to get to Lublin, the closest major Polish city to the northern border, refugees often have to travel through some of Poland’s so-called “LGBT-free zones”.

These zones began popping up across the country in 2019, with almost 100 municipalities declaring themselves unwelcoming of “LGBT ideology”.

“One of the trans women we were helping asked me: ‘Are we going to be going through those ‘LGBT-free zones’, and what does that mean?” explains Filip Kijowski, 28, co-founder of the LGBT+ library Biblioteka Azyl, based in Lublin.

He and curator Waldemar Tatarczuk, 57, have been working flat-out to assist LGBT+ refugees in finding community, safety and healthcare after leaving Ukraine.

“It’s horrific that they are not only fleeing war and have these traumas, but also have to be worried about being more traumatised by our government,” Kijowski tells PinkNews.

In 2020 “LGBT-free zones” covered a third of Poland; a small handful have since renounced the declarations.

In February, Poland’s parliament passed a law banning so-called “LGBT+ propaganda” in schools across the country. It is illegal for same-sex couples to marry or adopt children, and a 2019 opinion poll found that almost a quarter of the population believes homosexuality must not be tolerated.

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