Izolyatsia, a self-styled “platform for cultural initiatives,” in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk has been targeted and seized by armed pro-Russian separatists, members from the club have said in a statement.
The cultural centre (seen above before the capture) “was captured by armed representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) [on the morning of June 9]. People in masks and with weapons occupied the Foundation’s territory” located in the city’s industrial district, the statement said.
“According to [DPR representative] Roman Lyagin, the premises, formerly an insulation materials plant, will be used as a centre for receiving humanitarian aid and administrative activities”, the statement explained. “Additionally, DPR is interested in using of the bomb shelter situated on Izolyatsia territory. The raiders have promised not to damage any pieces of art or foundation property.”
This move from the armed DPR members is a latest step in the increasingly tense situation in eastern Ukraine: “it is the first time that a large cultural centre that expressed its civic position openly has been captured within the anti-terrorist activities zone” according to the statement.
"Armed with Kalashnikovs and sniper rifles"
In an e-mail, Izolyatsia’s founding member Mykhailo Glubokyi told euronews that more than a dozen armed activists seized the building on Monday morning, “one of them was equipped with a sniper rifle, others with Kalashnikovs.”
No blood was shed during the capture, because Izolyatsia wasn’t hosting any exhibition or events at the time and “[the DPR] gave us a call on Sunday to let us know about their plans.”
A day later, the situation around the captured building remains tense. “Most of the armed people left, only couple of people stayed to “control territory,”“ Glubokyi told euronews. “Meanwhile DPR-loyal media have started a campaign saying that Izolyatsia is an American-funded anti-Russian organisation which supports fascism and develops decadent kind of arts.”
The DPR said “the Red Cross is sending humanitarian aid especially for [them]” and thus they need storage space. But “one of the DPR leaders, Roman Lyagin, is an old friend of ours, he has been visiting our events, communicated with our employees a lot, so we think that there is some kind of ideological basis behind” this capture. For Glubokyi, there is little doubt they were being deliberately targeted, saying “Donetsk is an industrial place, it has lots of warehouses and factories located in more convenient places.”
It is not the first time Izoyatsia has run into trouble with pro-Russians locals. In April 2013, “they have already threatened Izolyatsia last year, when they broke onto our territory” Glubokyi told euronews. The cultural space was then organising an event “supposed to teach representatives of various Ukrainian non-governmental institutions how to implement new media effectively for developing and managing their cultural and social projects.”
But protesters had come prepared with leaflets, banners and slogans: “The Internet is not a place for revolutions”, “No to “the Arab spring” in Donetsk!”, “No to “the Syrian revolution” in Ukraine!”. After this show of force, and due to safety reasons, the event was “prematurely disbanded.”
Strong condemnation from European cultural organisations
The Trans Europe Halles (TEH), a network of cultural spaces in Europe, of which Izolyatsia is a member of, has voiced concerns after news of the occupation: “[TEH] strongly believes that creative and artistic expression are core factors in the development of a healthy and democratic society, since they can be used as powerful means to inspire and boost free expression, critical thinking and identity,” the network wrote on its website.
“The fact that a civil-society-managed cultural centre like Izolyatsia has been occupied by armed forces shows the disrespect of the DPR towards some of the most important values in a free society. Therefore, TEH and all its member organisations strongly condemn this action and expect the separatists to immediately leave Izolyatsia.”
The network of cultural spaces, which claims almost 70 members across Europe, also started a social media campaign in favour of the liberation of the seized Ukrainian institution.
For Izolyatsia members, the future is uncertain. “We are safe in Kyiv right now,” Glubokyi explained, “thinking about how to work in exile to let people in Ukraine and around the world hear voice of real Donetsk people instead of voices of armed mob members.”