More Unrest in Ukraine as Rebels Seize Arts and Culture Center

A graphic on the Izolyatsia website accompanying a letter denouncing the center's seizure by rebel forces.

Rebels from the Donstsk People’s Republic (DPR), an unrecognized pro-Russian separatist state in eastern Ukraine, have taken control of a local arts and culture center, reports the Art Newspaper.

The Izolyatsia Center for Cultural Initiatives in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine, was attacked on Monday morning by armed militants. An update to the center’s website reports that rebels were “demanding the appropriation of the site and its buildings for the benefit of the DPR and its activities.” The center, founded in 2010 by businesswoman Lyubov Mikhailova, is housed in (and named after) a Soviet-era insulation plant.

According to reports, Izolyatsia was warned in advance of the attacks. In a interview on Kiev’s Radio Vesti, Mikhailova expressed her belief that the center was chosen by the rebels “namely because it is a cultural institution.” Later in the show, art critic Kostyantyn Doroshenko praised the Izolyatsia as “an absolutely unprecedented project” for its work with important international artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang and Daniel Buren, describing its occupation as “a definite humanitarian catastrophe.”

Political unrest is rampant in the region, which is where former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is from. An open letter posted on the center’s website explains that Izolyatsia had suspended its operations on May 29 due to the “tense situation in the city.” The center says that DPR operations are an “explicit violation of the democratic freedoms of speech, and the indirect censure of egalitarian initiatives.”

In contrast, pro-Russian news outlets have spoken out in support of the DPR’s actions, such as, which denounced Izolyatsia as a “museum of decadent art that was actively used by local [Ukrainian] nationalists and supporters of European integration for their goals.”

Izolyatsia describes the raid as violent and destructive, despite the promise of DPR’s minister for social policy, Roman Lyagin, that “artworks and property belonging to the foundation would not be damaged.” “DPR militia under the influence of alcohol looted the rented offices of the foundation,” according to Izolyatsia, “vandalizing private property, and removing equipment, tools, the contents of the foundation’s safety vault, including the private property of its employees.”

The center has demanded access to the site in order to remove artworks, urging the DPR that “art works can still be saved.”

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