Museums Controversies News Ukraine

Donetsk culture centre seized by separatist group

Armed militia took over a foundation that has hosted projects by Ukrainian and international artists

A series of banners on Izolyatsia’s website declare that the center has been "seized”, “looted” and “occupied”

Pro-Russian rebels have seized a contemporary cultural centre in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine. Posting on its website, the Izolyatsia Center for Cultural Initiatives reports that armed militants from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) burst into the building on Monday morning, 10 June, “demanding the appropriation of the site… for the benefit of the DPR and its activities”.

Izolyatsia, located on a former Soviet-era insulation production plant from which it gets its name, is a non-profit organisation founded in 2010 with the goal of promoting cultural and contemporary art projects in the region.

On Tuesday, Lyubov Mikhailova, a businesswoman who founded the organisation, said on Kiev’s Radio Vesti that the centre had been warned that it would be seized and that she is sure that Izolyatsia was targeted “namely because it is a cultural institution”. On the same programme, the cultural commentator and art critic Kostyantyn Doroshenko described Izolyatsia as “an absolutely unprecedented project” that has shown influential international artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang and Daniel Buren, and its seizure as “a definite humanitarian catastrophe”.

Nikita Kadan, a young Ukrainian contemporary artist who was preparing an exhibition at Izolyatsia with the Spanish artist Carlos Aires, says that the seizure shows that “contemporary culture, and culture overall, are completely defenseless” and that “the values of enlightenment, along with the inviolability of human life, have been revoked due to the state of emergency”.

In a statement on its website, Izolyatsia says that the seizure was led by Roman Lyagin, the separatist republic’s minister of social policy, who has been known to visit the venue in the past. (Donetsk is the political power base of Ukraine’s deposed former president Viktor Yanukovych.)

Despite promises that they would not damage the centre’s art and property, “DPR militia under the influence of alcohol looted the rented offices of the foundation, vandalising private property, and removing equipment, tools, the contents of the foundation’s safety vault, including the private property of its employees,” the foundation writes on its website, in an open letter to the group’s leader, Alexander Boroday. Izolyatsia demands that representatives of the art centre be allowed to recover art from the site.

A spokeswoman for the foundation says that employees were not harmed in the raid since the centre had suspended its activities on 29 May due to the “tense situation in the city”. Izolyatsia staff are now in Kiev preparing an exhibition to mark the centre’s fourth anniversary, she added.

In a story about the raid,, a Russian nationalist online news site, denounces the Izolyatsia as a “museum of decadent art that was actively used by local [Ukrainian] nationalists and supporters of European integration for their goals”. It adds: “Now this stronghold of the ‘fifth column’ is history. And rightly so.”

The non-profit organisation was founded on the site of a former Soviet-era insulation production plant in 2010, with the goal of promoting cultural and contemporary art projects in the region
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