Nataliia Lobach: – This is my art, and my absolute freedom

Activism is not only to go to marches and demonstrations. It is also weekly meetings in community centers. Therapy groups. Playing and discovering. Supporting each other.

Over the Rainbow

  • From March until June 2021, connected to important Human Rights Days, The Norwegian Helsinki Committee will be sharing stories from some of Europe’s brave and energetic human rights defenders.
  • Our aim is that young people in Norway will learn more about and get engaged in the situation for LGBTI persons in Europe.
  • The initiative, “Over the Rainbow”, is carried out in collaboration with the online news portal Framtida.
  • Stay tuned for interesting stories, events and even a competition or two!

Leading up to the international pride month June 2021, we have been sharing stories from some of Europe’s brave and energetic human rights defenders, through the initiative “Over the Rainbow”. The aim has been to inspire young people to be interested in LGBTI issues in Europe today.

–  Behind every parade, behind the rainbow flag, there are so many histories and people who want to create change, says Mina Skouen, who is responsible for Equal Rights in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

– We want to end this campaign with some inspiration for all that happens when June is over, and the public eye moves elsewhere.

The final person we will introduce to you in this campaign is Nataliia Lobach from Ukraine, who is both a graphic designer, and the coordinator of the Zaporizhzhia section of the NGO Insight.  We are happy she wanted to share with us how her design, life and activism is interlinked, and what activism looks like in everyday life, away from the June month headlines.

And we are even happier that Nataliia agreed to design facemasks for our campaign!

Nataliia Lobach

I never wanted to be an activist

Nataliia is 39 years old, and lives in Zaporizhzhia city in the south of Ukraine. This region is only 180 km away from the Russian occupied territories, and violent conflict.

– When I was born, it was the Soviet Union territory, and my grandparents endured all the horrors of terror in those days, says Nataliia.

– Yet, they survived and brought up their children – in love but, unfortunately, also in fear. I inherited that fear in my genes. It emerges as a fear to express myself, to have vivid personality, be myself, and speak sincerely about what I want and what I feel. Despite all that, in my life, I try to be what I am, manifest myself and do what I like.

Nataliia coordinates a regional group of the organization Insight, which is a long-term partner of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Insight’s regional groups have developed gradually over time, when there was someone outside of the capital who dared to be active, in conservative communities with little or no LGBTI activism from before. From having activities only in the capital Kyiv a few years back, Insight now has groups in ten regions.

– Frankly speaking, I never wanted to be an activist. I was afraid of social ostracism, or not being loved, as homophobia is still high, Nataliia says.

– However, I witnessed how far-right activists screamed out Nazi mottos and stoned the participants attacking an Equality Festival in Lviv which was organized by Insight. The boldness demonstrated by these women impressed and inspired me deeply.

At that moment, I understood that it is not right to stand on the side when people want to take our country back to the dark times. That is how I became a volunteer in Insight, and an activist.

The biggest challenge is safety

The European umbrella organization ILGA Europe, measures the human rights situation for LGBTI persons on an annual basis, and for 2021 Ukraine comes in on 40th place of the 49 countries that are measured.

The constant threats from far-right groups has called for warnings by organizations like the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Even though the country has its annual pride parade, we see other events that front LGBTI and women’s rights being attacked more as the rule than the exception. In Nataliias city, Zaporizhzhia, one of their Equality festivals was attacked in 2017, and several people were wounded.

– The biggest challenge while working with LGBTI people is safety, or to be more precise, lack of safety, says Nataliia.

-Threats and use of physical force put great pressure on LGBTI activists, along with homophobia. Meanwhile, we keep working and it is not that easy. But I can see that society is steadily evolving. It makes me pleased to watch how community develops, and how people become more self-confident and happier.

Lasse Thomassen, Communication Adviser in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, wearing his Over the rainbow-facemask, designed by Nataliia.

My art is my world

In 2018, Nataliia was invited to take part in Oslo Pride’s international program.

– It was the first time when I visited the Pride outside my country, and I felt like crying from happiness. Nothing can compare with the atmosphere in that place. I saw so much sincerity and openness. Joy and creative impulses filled my heart, and I was immensely impressed. This was imbedded in my heart and it is exactly what helps me in my work.

This year’s Oslo Pride was organized without international guests, because of the pandemic. And therefor it was particularly exciting to be able to promote the facemasks deigned by Nataliia, as a reminder of all the great work being done by our friends and colleagues around Europe.

When Nataliia made this design, she included many of the traditional symbols of the queer movement. The rainbow, and the colors of both trans and intersex can be found in the motive. People are joined together by these symbols in the design.

– Human rights inspire my design works. I perform many projects dedicated to feminism or LGBTI. The visual world has a great impact on us, and I take this opportunity to speak about things of my concern.

When asked how people respond to her works in Ukraine, she answers:

– People react well. This is my art and this is my absolute freedom. Somebody may dislike it, and this is their right also. However, my art is my world, and I believe nothing could affect it.

Do you want to know more?

If you want one of the facemasks, follow the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Framtida on Facebook and Instagram for give-away actions. You can also become one of our indispensable Allies! The first ten who sign up will get a facemask.

Even though Over the Rainbow-campaign is now finished, you can still use our resources for school classes. Contact us if you have a creative idea for how to use the face masks in your teaching and we can send you some (but be quick, because they are a very popular limited edition!).

If you want to know more about LGBTI issues in Norway and find out how you can be an activist yourself, you can check out organizations like Foreningen FRI, Queer Youth, PKI, Queer World, and Salam Norge.

For more information, please contact:

Employee

Mina Wikshåland Skouen

Head of Equal Rights SectionEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 90 82 50 76
Read article "Mina Wikshåland Skouen"

Employee

Lasse Thomassen

Communications AdviserEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 947 945 61
Read article "Lasse Thomassen"