In an apparent homophobic arson attack, Kiev’s historic Zhovten cinema was set ablaze on October 29, during the screening of an LGBT film. Though no injuries were reported among the 100 or so moviegoers, the city’s oldest theater was left badly damaged.
The Moscow Times report suggested the attack was made in protest against the screening of the French film Summer Nights, which explores the life of drag queens during the late 1950s. It was shown during Sunny Bunny, a queer program of the Molodist International Film Festival.
The festival’s coordinator, Ljosha Chashchyn, was at the screening and witnessed the attack. “The fire started before [10 p.m.]. At first there was a strange noise, but then the flames spread very quickly through the top rows of the cinema hall,” he said. “Nobody from the audience could tell anything specific about the arsonists. Luckily, the cinema wasn’t packed that night and everybody made it out safely, without panic, before the hall burnt down.”
Ihor Lutsenko, a member of the Kiev legislature, wrote about the legal battles over the cinema’s ownership on his Facebook page. Aspiring owners want to transform it into a commercial center. The building is a historic landmark built in the 1930s, and it’s been speculated that its destruction would make the land easier to sell.
The theater is well known for showing both independent and queer films, and many LGBT activists in Kiev helped launch social media campaigns to try and finance its restoration. Olena Shevchenko, a Sunny Bunny jury member, gave a rousing speech outside the theater and urged the LGBT community to stand together and not let crimes against them go unpunished.
Two days after the fire at Zhovten, police stopped three men in camouflage trying to enter the screening of another LGBT film at the festival. The assailants allegedly wore the insignia of the far-right Pravy Sektor faction.
In response to these homophobic attacks, the party of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has come out in support of criminalizing anti-LGBT discrimination. Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko promised that the cinema would be rebuilt and donated 10,000 hryvnia to the cause. A criminal case has also been launched.
Kiev’s Queer Fest was scheduled for December 13 to 16. Sunny Bunny planned to show the films that didn’t screen as a result of the fire.