Ukraine's Ministry of Culture Occupied by Film Students Demanding Swift Change After President Flees Kiev

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Protestors in Kiev

Film students, directors and others want a new leader in the wake of this weekend's government collapse.

KIEV, UKRAINE -- Film students, directors and others working creative industries have occupied the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture demanding the appointment of a new head as change sweeps the country in the wake of the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych's government. Yanukovych fled the capital late Friday.

The swift collapse of his rule, following the bloody culmination of three months of protests in which more than 88 people, mostly demonstrators, died in violent clashes with the police, was seized upon as a chance to usher in a new era in film and cultural policy.

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The ministry offices, housed in a historic building on a quiet street at the foot of a steep hill a 20-minute walk from the burned out buildings and barricades of Maidan [Independence] Square, took on a festive atmosphere with a paper sign covering an official nameplate dubbing it the "Uncultured Ministry."

An "assembly of cultural workers" has begun to discuss who might best represent their interests.

Igor Ivanko, a 21 year-old student of Kiev's Karpenko-Kary National Theater, Film and Television University, who was among students who supported the protests, said ministry workers who turned up for work Monday morning were prevented from entering.

"We won’t let anyone in until we've discussed who our nomination for culture minister should be," Ivanko told The Hollywood Reporter. "People in Ukraine are fed up with the corruption that is everywhere, the Ministry of Culture is no exception. No one in top positions is free of that taint of Yanukovych."

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Film directors and producers met Monday at Kiev's Dom Kino (House of Cinema) to begin debating electing a representative to act as the film industry's direct liaison with an eventual new minister of culture.

Igor Savychenko, executive director of the Motion Picture Association of Ukraine, said the current minister, Leonid Novokhatko -- who has not yet been formally removed -- was a figure who lacked support across cultural sectors.

"He's a bureaucrat, a former head of culture for the city of Kiev and, like many in the government, from the Party of Regions," Savychenko said. "It is essential for Ukraine to create a new generation of cultural leaders."

The Party of Regions, Ukraine's governing group, had long been the powerbase for Yanukovych, but in the tumultuous events since Friday when he fled Kiev, the party has switched sides.

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As tens of thousands of Ukrainians converged on the center of Kiev to lay flowers at dozens of candlelit altars, turning the battle-scarred streets and avenues into a sea of color, the country's new government, under an interim president, was busy dismissing ministers and issuing orders for arrests of those accused of wrongdoing.

The race is now on for candidates unsullied by the corruption of the country's deposed president and his administration to come forward before elections set for May 25.

In Moscow Monday, Russian sci-fi writer Sergei Lukyanenko, on whose novels Timur Bekmambetov’s features Night Watch and Day Watch were based, demanded that his books no longer be translated into Ukrainian.

Writing on his blog, he said he would refuse to visit Ukraine for literary events and called on others to follow his example. He criticized Ukrainian authors who had supported the opposition during recent events in the country.

"Hail the Maidan fighters and feed them, imbeciles," he wrote. "But if any of the authors who, incidentally, write in Russian and are published in Russia, want to take part in Russian conventions, I'll be against it."

Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow contributed to this story.

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