A group of fifteen masked men broke into the Visual Culture Research Center in Kiev and terrorized a security guard before destroying an exhibition and stealing four artworks on Tuesday, February 7.
According to a statement issued by the center, it received threatening phone calls and has been harassed on social media as well as on right-wing blogs since the February 2 opening of “The Lost Opportunity,” an exhibition of ten works by artist and political activist Davyd Chychkan that explores the period of civil unrest that led to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. In response, organizers canceled exhibition tours as a precaution and ultimately decided to temporarily close the center. On February 4, a group of young men gathered at the entrance to the venue and attacked a visitor, vandalized the building, and ripped down a banner advertising the exhibition.
The February 7 attack occurred the day the center reopened to the public. Around 5:30 PM, a security guard tried to let three visitors into the building when the masked men forced their way in behind them. The men proceeded to spray the guard with pepper spray and physically assault him. While wrecking the exhibition, the assailants graffitied the walls by spray-painting a trident shaped as a Celtic cross, which may indicate that the men identify as neo-Nazis. No groups have claimed credit for the attack. The police are investigating the incident.
The center will reopen the show on Sunday, February 12, in its vandalized state so that visitors can reflect on the importance of artistic expression. In a statement organizers said, “The reopened exhibition points to its return to the territory of intellectual interaction and reflection, from which it was ousted by the act of barbaric violence. It is thus the only way to discover its real political meaning.” Ukrainian lawyer and human rights advocate Ksenia Prokonova will give a lecture and discuss potential legal actions in cases of attacks and destruction of artworks.
Founded in 2008 as a platform for collaboration between academics, artists, activists, and progressive artistic programming, the Visual Cultural Research Center and its staff have been subject to violent attacks before. In September 2014, Vasyl Cherepanyn, head of VCRC, was severely beaten near the Kontraktova Square metro station. In May 2012, two men attacked “A Room of My Own,” an exhibition by Yevgenia Belorusets, who dedicated the show to queer families in Ukraine. The center says that these incidents as well as several others were never investigated.