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Violent Clashes Erupted at One of Kyiv’s Oldest Cinemas

During a conflict between municipal guards and activists protesting the privatization of Kyiv’s cinemas, a group of over 300 protesters was met with violence and homophobic slurs.

Kyiv Kino (courtesy of Eduardo Cassina)

On Friday, June 7, at approximately 11am, several members of Kyiv’s municipal guard entered the Kyiv Kino, a cinema in the center of Kyiv, setting off a confrontation between activists who claim that the Department of Communal Property unfairly tendered the lease to a new tenant in May, effectively privatizing a cinema that has been run independently and collectively for over 20 years. Several dozen municipal guards (an unofficial security force parallel to the police) had been called in to protect an inventory being conducted in the cinema by its new tenant, a group called the Cinema City network. As they entered the theater they encountered cinema staff, bartenders, and ticket staff working the kiosk. Then, the municipal guards then locked a gate that allows people into the cinema.

According to the current Director of the Cultural Center Cinema Kiev, Vilia Bondarenko, the municipal guards forcibly entered the building without prior warning or permission. “They chased away the visitors, the cinema employees and pushed the accountants,” she said in the Ukrainian news outlet nv.ua.

As word spread online of what was happening, a number of demonstrators gathered outside the cinema, where they were met with violence from the municipal guards and homophobic slurs. By 7pm, the protest swelled to over 300 people, with demonstrators shutting down Velika Vasilkyvska street directly in front of the cinema.

Vita Schneider, a writer and researcher who attended last Friday’s protest, told Hyperallergic that “the latest situation is part of ongoing privatization efforts that threaten Kyiv’s cultural life.” Schneider is a member of Occupy Kyiv Cinemas and co-author (together with Elena Syrbu and Ksenia Rybak) of a research report on the recent upswing of privatization of cinemas across the city. She says that a string of similar closures in the past year and a half, Kyiv Kino is one of the last remaining independent cinemas in the city, which is now under threat.

An activist recording the municipal guards from the other side of the gate (courtesy of Eduardo Cassina)

The municipal guards blocked the entrance to the cinema, preventing employees of Kyiv Kino from entering so the new tenant could complete its inventory. The protesters were a patchwork of individuals in the art and activist scenes, including a number of journalists and individuals associated with Occupy Kyiv Cinemas. Those who came to demonstrate did so because a number of other independent cinemas in Kyiv have recently come under threat.

After the municipal guards moved in they sealed off the second floor of the cinema, locking the workers there inside, several activists assembled on the main hall/foyer of the cinema downstairs. There, about 30 activists staged an occupation and attempted to breach the gate held by the municipal guards. Those who breached the gate were beaten and forcibly removed by the municipal guards. Video footage of the event posted to Instagram shows at least 3 activists beaten back with batons by the municipal guards after attempting to enter the cinema upstairs, with at least one sustaining serious injuries and being taken to hospital. According to the Ukrainian news outlet Hmarochos, one of the municipal guards was a leader of the ultra-right group, C14, Sergei Bondar.

The Kyiv Kino was opened in 1952 and is among the city’s oldest. From 2000 to 2002, it was restored and is now run independently, by a group called the Cultural Center Cinema Kyiv.

Until January, the building was listed as an official communal property under the ownership of the municipality, but earlier this year — in order to avoid prolonging the lease of the Cultural Center — the municipality transferred ownership to another entity, Kyivkinofilm. In response, the Cultural Center Cinema Kyiv filed a motion with the Commercial Court of Kyiv, Schneider says, asking that they reinstate their lease.

The incoming tenants, Cinema City network, are former co-owners of the 1 + 1 TV channel, Alexander Rodnyansky, and Boris Fuksman. The network has 3 cinemas in Kyiv, Odesa, and Ternopil, writes Ukrainska Pravda. According to reports in Ukrainian media, Cinema City offered more than 45 times the rent currently being paid by the Cultural Center, which has held the lease for the past 20 years.

Since 1999, the cinema has been run by the Cultural Center Cinema Kyiv, a collectively-run organization responsible for programming mostly art house cinema and organizing various film festivals, renovating the building and preserving its natural history and character. The cinema hosts the Molodist festivals, DocuDays, KROK, Odessa International Film Festival, as well as a Queer film festival called Sunny Bunny, one of the largest Queer film festivals in Eastern Europe.

Artist and researcher Eduardo Cassina tells Hyperallergic he wonders what will happen to the Queer film festival if the Kyiv Kino becomes a multiplex, asking, “Is the new multiplex also going to be keen on showing next year’s queer films?” In footage Cassina posted online, members of the radical ultra-rightwing group C14 can be seen in municipal guard uniforms, he says. In one of them, they can be seen kicking people with sticks and yelling “pederast, pederast!” (a derogatory homophobic slur in Ukraine).

According to Schneider, the non-prolongation of the lease is part of a wider cultural struggle within Kyiv, and that the city’s independent cultural life is being strangled as a result. “The struggle over maintaining the Kyiv’s independent cinemas is not new,” Schneider says, “over the last year-and-a-half, the non-prolongation of lease agreements has led to either the closure or transference to monopoly owners at least five other independent cinemas in the city.”

Schneider also said that these cinemas are being privatized illegally, in contrivance to procedures established by the Kyiv City State Administration. According to Schneider, “Kyiv’s cinemas are being usurped as public utilities and, in turn, the vibrancy of Kyiv’s remaining public spaces are under threat.” In 2018, for example, the Kinopanorama and Ukraine cinemas were both closed, two of the city’s most iconic, under a similar privatization scheme that is currently being employed with Kyiv Kino.

“Today, in central Kyiv,” Schneider says, “there are only three independent cinemas left. We are struggling to protect what’s left.”

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