‘I would expect more trust’: five things holding back LGBTQIA+ led organisations in the Ukraine response

Charlotte Greener Humanitarian, Research, Rights

LGBTQIA+ organisations responding to the crisis in Ukraine need better support from international donors, including more flexible funding and support to boost the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community. Charlotte Greener shares insights from conversations with two LGBTQIA+ groups working in Ukraine and neighbouring Poland.

Cover of the recent Oxfam report

“I think the response of the LGBTQIA+ community was amazing. In the beginning we didn’t have funds for shelters, so we put up Instagram posts asking for people from the community to help and there was a huge response. One of the first groups the community housed was a group of 120 female third-country-national students (who fled Ukraine in 2022) who needed short-term shelter – we were able to find accommodation for all of them in six hours.”
– Miłosz Przepiórkowski, Lambda Warszawa, an LGBTQIA+ organisation in Poland

From the start of the humanitarian crisis following the escalation of the war in Ukraine, local LGBTQIA+-led organisations,  have been doing outstanding work on the ground responding to their communities’ needs, both in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. Many had to shift their activities rapidly into humanitarian assistance from their regular work. More than two years on, local LGBTQIA+-led groups are still at the forefront of providing assistance.

In this blog we look at five key challenges holding these organisations back, including a lack of core and flexible funding, the burden of bureaucracy that comes with humanitarian funding, and lack of visibility. These challenges are drawn from interviews conducted for a wider paper looking at both LGBTQIA+-led and women’s organisations: Two years at the forefront: Exploring the needs and experiences of women-led, women’s rights, and LGBTQIA+-led organizations two years into the Ukraine humanitarian response.

1. The need for core funding to pay for staff and overheads

Both representatives from LGBQTIA+ organisations that we spoke to told  about the challenges of project-based funding and lack of funding for staff costs and overheads.

“I tell everyone this – if a big organisation asked me ‘if I gave you $150,000, what would you do with it first?’ I would say: core funding,” says Miłosz Przepiórkowski, of Polish LGBTQIA+ organisation Lambda Warszawa. “They will say that we had highlighted the need for psychosocial support, or some similar thing – but without a team I can’t even start looking for psychological support. We need to invest in people. Once we have a team of people, then we can actually even start looking for funding. We had core funding before, for 2023, but now it is gone. Now we only have project funding.”

The offer of narrow project funding and the failure to provide overheads and core funding to local actors has been a persistent problem in humanitarian responses across the globe, again reflected in the Ukraine response.

“We are still looking for funding to cover current humanitarian aid needs. And while I see that attention and support to Ukraine is still much higher than before 2022, of course, and still quite large, there are not so many opportunities for small organisations, or medium organisations who work with a very specific target audience like us,” says Anna Leonova, executive director of Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ organisation Gay Alliance Ukraine.

2. The precarity of support: we need to build and sustain organisations work for the long term

The response to the crisis has brought an expansion in size, scope, and funding and training opportunities for LGBTQIA+-led organisations. This presents an opportunity to strengthen their institutional capacity in the long term.

However, as with other local organisations, the lack of flexible, long-term funding is making it difficult for these organisations to work in a way that is holistic and sustainable. “There is not strategising for the long term,” says Anna Leonova of Gay Alliance Ukraine. “The horizon of planning became closer after the war started – we used to plan for three to five years, now we plan for one year and we hope.”

That’s why the report calls for flexible, long-term funding that supports the work of LGBTQIA+-led and women’s organizations across all stages of the response – and beyond – recognizing their role as organisations that work across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and allowing them to invest in their future effectiveness.

3. The burden of bureaucracy imposed by donors

Our interviewees repeatedly mentioned the burden that long, complex, and duplicative bureaucratic processes imposed by donors put on staff, limiting resources for their real work.

What the organisations need, says Miłosz Przepiórkowski of Lambda Warszawa, is trust in their ability and capacity to deliver. “I would expect some more trust from many donors. Being the oldest LGBTQIA+ organization in Poland… [we] have permanent financial controls. So, when you look in our documents, you see everything is exactly how it should be.”

Alongside more trust and flexibility and less paperwork, a key recommendation of our paper is that donors harmonise requirements for funding and reporting, so organisations don’t have to fill in the same information in different ways several times over.

4. The lack of visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community in humanitarian and recovery spaces

“I see forms saying ‘how many of your beneficiaries are male / female’. But about 30% of our beneficiaries are non-binary, so where am I meant to put them? I went to one organisation that gave us a form like this and asked where I should put these people, and they said ‘well are they more male or more female?’ I was like – seriously? How can I answer that? Should I judge this myself, or look in their documents, or what?”
– Miłosz Przepiórkowski, of Lambda Warszawa

It is important to recognise the specific impacts that humanitarian crises have on women, men, boys and girls – but in doing this, humanitarian organisations need to also be careful not to neglect the full spectrum of gender diversity and the intersectional challenges faced by different groups. Our partners working to support the LGBTQIA+ community asked us to be attentive to assumptions about gender identity – for instance only having ‘male/female’ options on forms – and to recognise that there are gendered issues facing people from a range of genders and backgrounds (e.g. men with HIV/AIDs, Roma women, or trans people).

There is also a need for increased visibility and voice for LGBTQIA+ organisations in discussions about reconstruction and recovery of Ukraine, an area where international NGOs (INGOs) can help support local organizations.

“After the war ends, we’ll need to renovate not only our buildings and roads, but also our democracy and institutions and human rights defences,” says Anna Leonova of Gay Alliance Ukraine. “Unfortunately for our state, LGBTQIA+ people remain an invisible group – we are not considered a vulnerable group, legally. So, yes, we feel we are heard by international organizations, but not by the government. And we feel that this is a role for INGOs that come to the country within the humanitarian response, that they can help us to establish this dialogue.”

A key priority for international funders, therefore, must be to ensure LGBTQIA+-led and women’s organizations are heard in recovery and reconstruction discussions at local, national and international levels, and encourage their involvement in Ukrainian government decisions about the future of services for their communities.

5. Supporting LGBTQIA+ communities in the face of opposition

“At the beginning, our organisation didn’t receive any help from the Polish government to help with refugees. Even the Polish Red Cross didn’t want to put up our posters, because they had a rainbow on them and said ‘We help everyone’.”
– Miłosz Przepiórkowski, of Lambda Warszawa

LGBTQIA+-led organisations still face discrimination, hostility, and even security threats as they try to carry out their work.

For instance, in December last year, Gay Alliance Ukraine had to request extra funding for security for an exhibition in Odesa featuring the personal stories of the war from 30 LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine. The need for security was highlighted on the opening day, when a group of 10-15 people claiming to be from a conservative group protested at the venue and vandalised several banners. Despite this, the exhibition was well attended and provided an incredible opportunity to highlight the experiences of Ukraine’s LGBTQIA+ people.

Over two years  from the start of the war in Ukraine,  local LGBTQIA+-led organisations have risen to the challenge of tackling the humanitarian crisis in inspiring and innovative ways, often at great personal cost to their staff. What they need now from international donors is more flexibility, more trust, proper funding to sustain their work in the longer term, and proper respect for their voices and expertise.


Charlotte Greener

Charlotte Greener is Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Oxfam’s Ukraine Programme Management Unit in Poland.

Read the full paper: Two years at the forefront: Exploring the needs and experiences of women-led, women’s rights, and LGBTQIA+ led organizations two years into the Ukraine humanitarian response.

Lambda Warszawa has been active in supporting and creating a positive image of the LGBTQIA+ community in Poland since 1997. They are working on providing LGBTQIA+ Ukrainian refugees with safe working space and opportunities through an integrated protection program.

Gay Alliance Ukraine (GAU) is an organization that aims to increase the level of tolerance in Ukrainian society, to promote the full realization of human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community in Ukraine and beyond, and to promote the establishment of equality of all people and respect for people’s freedom.