Mrs. Villiia Bondarenko: “Our team raised “Kyiv” Cinema from the ruins, and one year ago it was raided by Kyiv City State Administration”

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The first interview after the forced shutdown of the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema was given UA-Times by director of the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema, an Honoured Culture Worker of Ukraine Mrs. Villiia Bondarenko. Mrs. Bondarenko told how her creative team in the 2000s restored the dilapidated cultural centre, reconstructed the building on credit means, gained international connections, and then was left on the street without premises and documents. The first part of our conversation.

How was the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema created?

– I was appointed director of “Kyiv” Cinema in 2000. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cinema was in decline: in the 1990s, the premises were rented out to various companies, far from the art sphere; the technical condition of the building was extremely unsatisfactory. So, the first thing the private limited company started with was the overhaul of the building. It was the first one in half a century since the opening of the cinema.

Renovation works were carried out in conjunction with restoration works to preserve the architectural style of Kyiv’s favorite cinema. Without exaggeration, our team raised “Kyiv” Cinema from the ruins and brought it back to life. You can see with your own eyes in these photos what was done by the private limited company Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema in this direction.

Film screenings were resumed in March 2002 in the Red Hall and in January 2003 – in the Blue Hall after extensive renovations. Later, in early 2007, we opened another hall – the Cinematheque. All repair and restoration works were done exclusively by the Company. We took bank loans (seven in total) in the amount of about 60 million hryvnias. The cinema was equipped with the latest digital technologies and high standards. Thanks to the professionalism, painstaking and inspired work of the team, its audience and original repertoire policy were formed, what made the cinema stand out of others. We have made the cinema a real cultural and festival centre of the capital, a venue for non-commercial and arthouse cinema. All the years of our activity the team has been in dialogue with its audience, we have always listened to advice and criticism, but never betrayed ourselves. And we have been relentlessly implementing an important function for the development and strengthening of Ukrainian statehood – the support of national cinema.

Photo “Kyiv” before renovation in the 2000s| Photo Facebook

I can safely say that the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema is the Company’s own brand. I would like to notice that the management of the new tenant of the cinema – “Cinema-Centre” – brazenly stated that it takes our program concept developed over the years and will work on it. To confirm my words about the professionalism of our team, I would like to add that in January 2007 the Cultural Centre was accepted as a member of the international organisation Europa Cinemas, which includes the best cinemas of Europe, Latin America and French-speaking countries in Africa. I would like to emphasise that the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema has not received any financial investments or assistance from the city for all 20 years of its existence. That is why the words of the director of the culture department of the Kyiv City State Administration Ms. Diana Popova, today the former deputy mayor of the capital Mr. Volodymyr Slonchak and the mayor Vitalii Klitschko that we have operated the building for years without investing a penny in it and that a new owner of Cinema Centre received the building in an abandoned state, sound especially cynical and blatantly false.

– What events were held in the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema in the cinema building?

– Our team since 2002, the time of birth of the CC “Kyiv” Cinema, has successfully established cooperation with all embassies of foreign countries accredited in Ukraine, cultural centres located in them, domestic distribution companies, organisers of cinema and other national and world art festivals, the Alexander Dovzhenko National Centre and different cultural foundations. Our repertoire included projects that satisfied the most demanding tastes of the audience – “British Theater in Cinema”, “Exhibition on Screen”, “Opera in Cinema”, “Ballet in Cinema”, many documentaries, film clubs with native speakers.

Spectators had the opportunity to watch arthouse, auteur and documentary films, which have won numerous awards at prestigious international festivals, but which are not widely available in Ukraine, as part of festival screenings (and we organised almost 500 of them during our creative activity). There were also retrospectives of national and foreign film masterpieces, famous directors and actors, and creative meetings with film crews. We can’t list everything!

One of the nice moments. Earlier this year, my friend, a director, returned from France and brought me and the cinema staff a greeting from Fanny Ardant. We invited her in the 2000s.

Villiia Bondarenko and Fanny Ardant in the Cultural Centre “Kyiv”

The cinema has become the main location of the largest film forum in Eastern Europe – the Molodist (Youth) Film Festival.

We have always worked in harmony, in tandem on the organisation of program content. I would like to say many warm words to Molodist (Youth) for the years of successful partnership and the joy of communicating with like-minded people.

Speaking of the team, we cannot help mentioning its educational and social activities. We have established partnerships with many schools and universities in the capital. For example, our “neighbours”, students and teachers of the Kyiv National Linguistic University, came to us every week in groups – both for festival films and for films in the original languages.

 

Often, to the needs and wishes of pupils and students, we held film screenings focused on improving the assimilation of educational material, socio-cultural component. They were given big discounts on tickets or free invitations. We were undoubtedly aware of the great importance of promoting cultural and aesthetic values among the younger generation.

It breaks my heart to recall this: during one of this charity screenings for orphans, a raid on the Cultural Centre took place on June 7 a year ago. Then fifty armed men from the Municipal Guard, by order of the mayor, with the support of the departments of communal property and culture of the Kyiv City State Administration, stopped the session, took out the children and seized the building.

Thus, the cultural space created by the Company, with the inspiring support of spectators, has become a calling card of the capital and, I am not afraid of this comparison, the state – for guests of the city and official foreign delegations. For two decades we have been working with dignity for the cultural image of Kyiv and Ukraine. In my office, to which I do not have access after the raider seizure by the Kyiv City State Administration, there are a huge number of letters of thanks to the Company, awards of our work, anniversary awards from embassies, cultural institutions, Ukrainian and international festivals, people from the film industry. But the most important thing that has always pleased our eyes and soul – crowded auditoriums, never-ending interest in all our events and projects.

It is an indescribable pity that all this has been minimised by the mayor and his entourage. For what it’s worth, Mr. Klitschko’s words in an interview with Matvii Ganapolsky in January 2019: “There are five halls (if there are three – Mrs. V. Bondarenko), billiards, snack bars, everything is there, and there is not enough cinema.” What is it – ignorance, incompetence of the mayor, unwillingness to see our achievements or a bold undisguised lie?!

When did you first learn that the cinema building was planned to be given to another tenant? Were there any grounds for the city authorities to deprive the Cultural Centre “Kyiv” Cinema staff of these premises?

– October 3, 2018, three months before the end of the rental agreement, we sent a letter to the Kyiv City State Administration requesting the Lease Renewal Agreement. We did not receive any answer at the relevant time prescribed by law. Officials were silent. Then, after the rent was over, they announced the community that they were sending us letters mentioning refusal to rent the premises, as if we were hiding this fact to protect ourselves. But during the court hearings in the Pechersk Commercial Court, the Cultural Centre proved that no letters from the Kyiv City State Administration were received: requests from the Kyiv Central Post Office (Poshtamt) showed that the mayor’s office sent letters, but instead of our address, they used the non-existent one. Their motivating factor was obvious – not to give us an answer in time, to deprive us of time to fight.

So, back to the events of the end of the year 2018. Worrying a lot about the absence of response, I went to see the heads of the Department of Culture and Communal Property Department and got the following answer: “We will not continue the lease to the Company.” I asked Ms. Popova: “Why? Did we not fulfill something under the contract? ” The director of the department answered me: “No, you did everything. The city just needs a building! ”…

I will not repeat the universal truths mentioned by lawyers about the honest tenants primary right to rent the building, and in our case, those who for years have invested millions of hryvnias in repairs, restoration, maintenance, preservation of the property complex. By law the state must provide guarantees to such tenants. The Kyiv City State Administration chose its own way, by passing the legislation. Firstly, the mayor’s office announced about transferring this property complex to Kyivkinofilm. Imagine that 20 years ago the cinema left this establishment, and now, after an overhaul and restoration of the building by our team, with repertoire developed over the years, the mayor’s office transfers a successful project to the balance of the utility enterprise, which failed!

Then they went further: began to spread misinformation, manipulate public opinion. The main argument against the Company was, in their opinion, the ultra-low rental charge, we heard everywhere then that “the previous tenant paid 47,000 UAH per month, and we will find a more efficient tenant for the city.

Firstly, 47,000 UAH of the rent was set by the mayor’s office itself when signing the lease agreement in 2009. What is our fault? Should we have gone to the officials ourselves and asked to review the current contract? This is their function… Secondly, together with the subtenants, we transferred 270,000 hryvnias to the city every month, and if we take into account all the taxes under various articles, Kyiv received about 600-700 thousand hryvnias per month!

So, we asked to recalculate the rent for a new term at a fair price, which is approximately 550 thousand hryvnias per month. In response, we heard: “No. We will find a new tenant. We will not work with you.” As you can see, at the “public tendering processes for the cinema”, as the mayor said after the auction, the mayor’s office found a company that offered a crazy amount of money – 2.5 million hryvnias per month. But in fact, in three months the new tenant asked to reduce the rent to that very 550,000 hryvnias, and in two months the department of communal property arbitrarily and, what is more important, illegally exempted Cinema Centre from paying the rent. From December 1, 2019, the city has not received a penny in its budget! The new tenant announced that the building was in disrepair. I remember Ms. Popova’s words a year ago: “We can’t even assume that at least one day our “Kyiv” won’t work”.


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