Gordon: I will never know rest until those behind the arson and attempted raid on the Zhovten cinema are punished
Dmitriy Gordon: As a Kyiv resident, as a citizen and as a deputy I want to know the names of the members of the criminal gang behind the attempted raid on Zhovten
Zhovten, one of the oldest Ukrainian cinemas, opened in Kiev a year after the arson. The reconstruction lasted almost a year with the cinema restoration costing the municipal budget UAH 53 mln. However, only the actual perpetrators have been punished, while the hirers whose main goal was to seize the building and the land parcel have not been found yet. The deputy of Kyiv Council Dmitriy Gordon, whose efforts helped beat off the raid on Zhovten, said to Gordon’s Boulevard that he would put as much effort as possible to have the masterminds of the arson not only named but also punished.
This day a year ago, on December 26, 2014, Kyiv Council voted in the first reading Dmitriy Gordon’s bill on awarding Zhovten, one of the oldest Ukrainian cinemas, with the status of a local landmark of architecture, and the surrounding area with the status of а public garden, which made it impossible to erect another glass and concrete monster in place of the barbarously burned cinema.
On October 18, 2015, a year after the arson, the newly reconstructed cinema was solemnly inaugurated. The reconstruction of Zhovten cost the municipal budget 53 million UAH, and it is only the actual perpetrators who were convicted (on probation!), while the hirers, whose aim was to seize the land parcel, have not been found yet. Dmitriy Gordon, whose efforts helped beat off the raid on Zhovten, said to Gordon’s Boulevard that he would put as much effort as possible to have the masterminds of the arson not only named but also punished.
"The main thing every adequate person possesses," Gordon says, "is the striving for the truth and justice: in my opinion, there is nothing more important than this. What you will read below is my endeavour to restore the truth and justice. I will refer to bare facts and will describe the events in an extremely precise and laconic way so that any reasonable person could understand and properly interpret the situation around Kyiv’s oldest cinema, and, to my mind, the situation is as simple as ABC. It was an attempted raid on a titbit of land in the centre of Podol, and, though 53 million UAH from Kyiv’s budget were spent on the restoration of the capital’s historical landmark, the masterminds of the arson have not been punished yet."
There is a long-standing ‘tradition’ in Kyiv to set fire to a building in the historical part of the city, then to declare it dangerous and to cede it to developers along with the land parcel
– So at 21:25 on Saturday, October 29, 2014, the film Les nuits d'été touching on LGBT issues was on at the capital’s Zhovten cinema within the Molodist international film festival. According to the witnesses, several minutes after the show started strangers sitting in the front rows threw a smoke candle at the back rows and slipped away. The hall was full of smoke, several chairs caught fire, it was hard to breathe, the visitors were leaving the hall through one narrow open door (the other exits, including emergency exits, were closed). I would like to emphasize: one narrow open door! The fire alarm did not set off, the employees of Zhovten did not know where the fire alarm button was; moreover, according to the witnesses, all fire extinguishers in the building were out of order, and the employees of the cinema did not do a thing to save Zhovten.
The next morning after the accident, the press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported that there were three fire sources in the cinema building: the Hegemon hall where the strangers threw smoke candles, the roof and one place outside. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from this information is that the people who were allegedly protesting against the demonstration of a film involving LGBT issues threw the smoke candles to distract attention.
Kyiv, October 29, 2014, fire in Zhovten cinema. Photo: Pavlo Mitskelevich / uk.wikipedia.org
I am a deputy of Kyiv Council, I had been going to Zhovten since my childhood, I have been living in Podol for many years so I understand it better than anyone else that there are very few really historical buildings remaining in the Ukrainian capital. Moreover, as a native resident of Kyiv, I perfectly know the long-standing tradition of our capital: to set fire to a building in the historical part of the city, then to declare it dangerous and to cede it to developers along with the land parcel. This mechanism has been working in Kyiv for many years, and it is still in place.
My speculations were confirmed by confidential sources in law enforcement agencies: Zhovten was set on fire on purpose in order to build another 11 or 12-storey trade and office centre in its place. Several rooms in this featureless piece of glass were intended for a cinema in order to calm down the public: say, Zhovten was burned down, but there will be a cinema in the new building, not only shops and offices.
However, Zhovten is not just a cinema for the residents of Kyiv, it is a symbol of the epoch, a symbol of the capital, a symbol of childhood and youth.
Can the arson of a building with several hundred people inside be considered hooliganism?
Liudmila Gordeladze, the chairperson of Kinoman Ltd., has been the director of Zhovten since 2000. Two days before the arson, on 27 October, Kyiv Economic Court of Appeal dismissed Gordeladze’s appeal and left standing the resolution of 07 October on moving Kinoman out of the premises of the cinema.
"During the inspection carried out upon the request of the Department of Communal Property of Kyiv City State Administration," the court resolution held, "it was established that Kinoman Ltd. had been using the cinema premises for its business activity without legal grounds since 2011. In particular, it was established that Kyiv Council had not adopted any decisions to lease this property to Kinoman Ltd. Also, there are no court resolutions recognizing the right of the above company to use the premises of the cinema."
This detail is very important. On October 7, 2014, Kyiv Economic Court bound Kinoman Ltd. to return the Zhovten cinema to the disposal of the capital community; on October 27, the court of appeal supported the resolution of the economic court, and two days later, on October 29, the cinema was burned down. It means that Gordeladze’s company unlawfully occupied the building of Zhovten at the moment of the fire.
Another important detail: Kinoman Ltd. is a limited liability company, which, according to Gordeladze, represents the total of the cinema’s personnel, however, the personnel is registered as ‘wage and salary employees’, i.e. they do not have the right to vote. It is unlike three co-founders of Kinoman Ltd. who own the controlling interest – Liudmila Borisovna Gordeladze herself (with a contribution to the authorized fund amounting to UAH 278,783), her son Pavel Merabovich Gordeladze (a contribution of UAH 351,902) and a Tatiana Aleksandrovna Pashkevich whose contribution to the authorized fund was as much as... UAH 189 (!). Thus, Kinoman is a family business of Liudmila Gordeladze and her son Pavel.
At night between October 31 and November 01, 2014, Kyiv police detained two persons suspected of the arson of the cinema. These were a 20-year-old student of a Kyiv university and his 24-year-old unemployed friend. The detention could not go without shooting: the police was pursuing the bus with the suspects and had to make warning shots in the air for the driver to stop.
The arrested later admitted their guilt explaining their actions by a desire to disrupt the demonstration of the film involving LGBT issues. And then happened something that made the public indignant: on 03 November last year, Podol Court of Kyiv passed the sentence in the form of – attention! – home arrest. Thus, the criminals set the cinema on fire, they were being chased with shooting, but the court interpreted their actions as hooliganism rather than deliberate property destruction and sentenced them to home arrest. Can the arson of a building with several hundred people inside be considered hooliganism? What about the threat to the visitors’ lives? And two more fire sources on the roof and outside? The investigation was silent about this.
It was then that I became fully convinced that the arson of Zhovten was a well-planned operation with an ultimate goal of building another trade centre in place of the burned cinema. The roles in this plan were distributed in a precise way: two guys were used to distract attention (say, they were protesting against the LGBT movie and throwing smoke candles allegedly causing the cinema to catch fire, while someone else really set fire to Zhovten on the roof and in one more site. As a result, the arrested are sentenced to home arrest with subsequent release from punishment, and the masterminds of the crime receive the building and a land parcel in the centre of Podol.
The fire in Zhovten is a new cynical scheme of raiding a precious building belonging to the residents of Kyiv
Ninety minutes after the arson, there was a message in the social networks announcing a civil demonstration called Save Zhovten to be held in front of the building of Kyiv City Administration on October 31. It was headed by Zorian Kis and Sergey Shchelkunov who positioned themselves as ‘demonstration coordinators’ and ‘civil activists’. When I came to this demonstration, the first thing that caught my eye was the serious amount of resources involved: print materials, fancy design, graphic works, a lot of similar T-shirts, jackets, flags, etc. Common sense suggested that it was very time-consuming and costly to produce all these attributes within such a short period of time (only one day after the fire). It means that someone was orchestrating and managing this campaign by injecting money.
What were the expectations of Kiev residents who were sincerely supporting the Save Zhovten initiative? That the arson perpetuators will be found, that the building will be renovated and the cinema will be there again. Instead, however, the activists under the management of Kis and Shchelkunov began calling upon Kyiv authorities to conclude a cinema lease agreement with Gordeladze. It was at least strange to focus on the conclusion of an agreement with Kinoman founders rather than on the restoration of Zhovten.
On October 30, the next day after the fire, I wrote on my Facebook page, "The fire in Zhovten is a new cynical scheme of raiding a precious building belonging to the residents of Kyiv. It is of vital importance to prevent this scheme from being realized. To this end, the cinema building shall be awarded with the status of a landmark of architecture to discourage those who have an eye on it and are going to build another trade and entertainment skyscraper on this place."
According to the law, signatures of at least one thousand Kyiv residents shall be collected for such an initiative to be urgently put forward at Kyiv Council. My team managed to collect 1250 signatures in less than a week and prepare a bill to award Zhovten with the status of a local landmark of architecture and the area around the cinema with the status of a public garden.
When we put up a tent in front of the damaged cinema in order to collect signatures of Kyiv residents who were not indifferent, Gordeladze prevented us from doing this in every possible way. I was very surprised at this: how can the director of the cinema be unwilling to restore the building in its original form, be interfering with the collection of signatures for the awarding of the status of a landmark of architecture to Zhovten and the status of a public garden to the surrounding green area? It is this status that makes it impossible to change the original architectural design of the cinema and to erect a trade and office centre in its place, i.e. the status of an architectural landmark allows restoration of the building in its original form.
The arson of Zhovten is an operation of a criminal gang obsessed with earning money by burning the cinema in a barbarous manner
On my part, there was an absolutely clear and natural message: the city authorities must do everything to immediately restore the cinema in its original form, and Gordeladze suddenly started insisting that, say, this status is not needed, it can be awarded later, first reconstruction, end of story. The ‘activists’ Kis and Shchelkunov echoed the director of Zhovten, and it was as clear as noonday that a very influential (perhaps, not one) figure is behind both Gordeladze’s position and the Save Zhovten initiative.
On October 31, it was announced that a charity fund for the restoration of the burned cinema was founded, and the first people to donate 10 thousand hryvnias each were the mayor of Kyiv Vitaliy Klitschko and I. My assistant personally handed this sum to Gordeladze and she accepted it, but after I put forward the initiative to award Zhovten with the status of a local landmark of architecture, Gordeladze suddenly sent me an official letter with a request not to award any statuses to either the building or the surrounding territory.
But why not award this status? What did we all need? To prevent Zhovten from being stolen and another trade and office monster from appearing in its place, and it is the status of an architectural landmark that could protect the cinema from raids. Having realized that I would stand my ground, Gordeladze... returned me 10 thousand hryvnias, so she did not really need money for the restoration. Why? Probably, because she did not mean to restore Zhovten? In my opinion, what Gordeladze needed was the building to winter half-destroyed, and then she would say that the restoration was allegedly impossible. Experts would confirm it, and someone would suggest building a trade centre with a couple of cinema halls in place of Zhovten.
I drew a conclusion that Gordeladze, Kis, Shchelkunov, and some others were part of the raiding scheme aimed to take away the cinema – I have no other logical explanation of their actions. I am positive that everything what was happening around Zhovten was an operation organized by a criminal gang obsessed with earning money, and subsequent events only reinforced my conclusions.
Deputies hurried out of the hall during the voting for the awarding of the status of an architectural landmark to Zhovten – they were instructed by faction leaders and moneybags behind them not to vote for my bill under any circumstances
On November 12, 2014, at the session of Kyiv Council I put forward a bill on the awarding of the status of a local landmark of architecture to Zhovten and the status of a public garden to the area around the cinema. Several hours later, Gordeladze published a post on her Facebook page accusing me of an attempted raid, complicity in the arson, and “the desire to take away the cinema 12 years before”.
It is a proven Goebbels’ technique to accuse others of what you are guilty of or involved in yourself, but the most important details were revealed later. According to the journalist and civil activist Maria Lebedeva, Gordeladze blurted out at the meeting of a working group that she had a design of a cinema complex in front of Zhovten, moreover, this design had already been examined by Kyiv City State Administration. "Gordeladze believes," Lebedeva emphasized, "that everybody who does not protect her interests is trying to take away the cinema."
The moment of truth came on December 25: another meeting of Kyiv Council took place on this day at which my draft resolution was supposed to be considered to award the status of a local landmark of architecture to Zhovten and the status of a public garden to the green area around the cinema. The ‘activist’ Shchelkunov turned up in Kyiv Council in the morning and started distributing nicely published leaflets on coated paper claiming that "dark forces want to steal Zhovten". I have a question where the unemployed Shchelkunov got money for expensive coated paper and coloured printing?
As soon as the then secretary of Kyiv Council Aleksey Reznikov said, "We will now turn to the consideration of the bill concerning Zhovten, the deputies hurried out of the hall. It turned out that all of them were instructed by faction leaders and moneybags behind them not to vote for my bill under any circumstances. Thus, there was no quorum, and Reznikov who took the cinema issue very close to heart put off the consideration of the bill until the following morning.
Only 68 out of 120 deputies were present the following morning, and a minimum of 61 votes is required to pass such decisions. I took the floor and was trying to prove to my colleagues in Kyiv Council in a well-reasoned and logical way for about an hour why the status of an architectural landmark was so important. I shouted, persuaded and laid myself out – it was a real battle which indicated who really wanted to protect the interests of Kyiv residents and to restore Zhovten and who was lobbying the interests of financial tycoons dreaming of a new skyscraper in the centre of Podol.
It is a common way of thinking: if a deputy wants something it means that he has a self-interest in it
I realized that I would not get enough support: there were only 68 deputies in the meeting hall, part of them were constantly going in and out. I had my deputy’s certificate in my left inside pocket, and I decided that if the voting failed I would immediately vacate my deputy’s seat because I did not want to participate in what ran contrary to common sense, decency and universal humanity principles.
I am very grateful to the mayor of Kyiv Vitaliy Klitschko, the then secretary of Kyiv Council Aleksey Reznikov, and the head of the land commission Vladimir Prokopiv, as well as to the head of the Zhytloinvestbud-UKB communal enterprise Vyacheslav Nepop who gave me a helping hand in the decisive and difficult moment and who were persuading the deputies, "Yes, Gordon defends the interests of the landmark and he does not have his own business interest here". It is a common way of thinking: if a deputy wants something it means that he has a self-interest in it, but, being a deputy of Kyiv Council, I published my declaration having honestly included all my property and income.
I am a well-off person, I value my reputation higher than dubious deals. I did not come to power to steal – I came to do real work because I want to live in a modern comfortable city. Watch the video from that meeting: there was no single reasonable argument against my bill, but one can easily trace political bias, avidity, stupidity and the desire to snatch a little money in those who voted against.
I am particularly grateful to Vyacheslav Nepop who stood up and said, "We will restore Zhovten, vote!" It was the turning point. The deputies who had conscience voted for it – moreover, the bill was supported even by those who were forbidden to do so by faction leaders. It is a feat! 64 out of 68 deputies voted for the bill – in the first place, it was a victory for Kyiv residents because it was decided to award Zhovten with the status of a local landmark of architecture and the surrounding territory with the status of a public garden, and to charge Zhytloinvestbud to restore the cinema in its original form with the funds earmarked from Kyiv’s budget.
Kyiv Council allocated UAH 53 million for the restoration of the cinema, and thanks to mayor Klitschko, thanks to Nepop who held brief meetings at the construction site twice a day throughout many months, thanks to the construction workers who worked three shifts, Zhovten was restored. On October 18, 2015, a year after the arson, the cinema resumed its work and, in my opinion, became the best municipal cinema in Ukraine.
Nothing ever catches fire because of smoke candles – they fume but do not burn
Let us now return to the arrested in the arson case. Last year I officially turned to the then Head of the Chief Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in the city of Kyiv, police major general Alexander Tereshchuk, with a request to investigate the possibility of Gordeladze’s personal involvement in the arson of Zhovten. Besides, I asked him to arrange a meeting with the accused. Why? I wanted to sit opposite these guys and ask, "Did you really commit the crime because of the protest against the LGBT film or were you hired? Did you really just throw smoke candles in the hall or did you set the building on fire in two more sites?"
Tereshchuk treated my request with understanding, called and said that one of the arrested categorically refused to meet me, and the other was ready to meet me, but only in the presence of a lawyer. We met, the guy told me that he had fought in the ATO zone, that he did not like gays and lesbians, that he and his friend intentionally came to protest against the LGBT film. I asked him, "How did you set the hall on fire?" – "We threw smoke candles", and the lawyer added, "But nothing ever catches fire because of smoke candles – they fume but do not burn. The arrested did not set the cinema on fire – it was already burning." It means that the guys were used blindly.
Recently, the director of Molodist international film festival in Kyiv, a very respectable and reputable person, the conscience of the Ukrainian cinema Andrey Khalpakhchi noticed what I had not paid attention to before. He asked himself how Gordeladze could learn about the arson of Zhovten before the police did? How could the smoke candle put out in the first floor cause the fire on the roof if it is only the cinema administration who had access to the attic?
Khalpakhchi writes, "Attacks on us demonstrate the moral aspect of Ms. Gordeladze herself. I do not want to enter into negotiations with her – market-like arguments are against the nature of our festival. Perhaps, she’d rather open a cinema on the Privoz market? I suppose she has chosen a wrong profession. She could write wonderful novels for women or detective books or porno stories – probably, she would have fulfilled herself in this epistolary genre."
It seemed to me that I knew people quite well, and when I first met Gordeladze I had an impression that she was a decent educated Jewish lady. Alas, I was wrong: Gordeladze turned out to be a typical foul-mouthed Banderite with no trace of culture.
I hereby officially turn to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine to get an answer to the key question concerning the Zhovten events: the city gave UAH 53 million of taxpayers’ money to restore the barbarously burned cinema, and who is guilty of the arson? Only those who allegedly burned it down and were convicted on probation, or the hirers as well? Some people go to jail for a stolen sack of potatoes, and we have nothing here? I also forwarded a deputy’s appeal to the mayor of Kyiv with a suggestion that Kyiv Council should bring a legal action requiring the hirers and the perpetrators of the crime to indemnify for material loss.
Thus, nobody but for the perpetrators was punished, no-one is guilty. Why are the investigators not looking for the hirers? As a Kyiv resident, as a citizen and as a deputy I want to know the names of the members of the criminal gang behind the attempted raid on Zhovten. I assure you that I will never know rest until those who were behind the arson and who were humbugging the public are found, found and punished. It is a matter of principle for me!