Critics have described the legislation, which imposes indeterminate fines and up to five years in prison for repeat offenders, as a throwback to the Middle Ages, although it is only a couple of decades since homosexuality was a criminal offence here and in the rest of the USSR.

In some ways, Ukraine is an open and tolerant society. It was the first former Soviet republic to decriminalise homosexuality, in 1991. It has sprouted its own gay rights movement, and gay night clubs operate freely in central Kiev.

The new bill could be interpreted to outlaw public displays of single-sex affection, such as kissing and hand-holding”

But despite this, the bill - which sailed through its first reading last week - enjoys wide backing. All major political parties are united in support, and polls indicate that many Ukrainians support some restrictions on the rights of sexual minorities.

One of the legislation's incubators is the Christian Hope evangelical church in Kiev. Located in a nondescript five-story structure outside the city centre, Christian Hope provides a wide array of educational and charity services, and has established a network of some 150 churches throughout Ukraine. It has also helped collect thousands of signatures in support of three anti-gay bills put forward in parliament this year.

After a rousing service in the church's warehouse-like auditorium focusing on the agonies of sin and bliss of salvation, I meet the chief pastor, Valery Reshetinsky. For him, the fight against homosexuality is a matter of "national security" upon which the survival of the nation depends.

"Here's the issue," says Pastor Reshetinsky, a large-boned man with a slight moustache, tells me. "In a real democracy, my freedom and rights are limited by the freedom of someone else."