Ukraine's LGBT Community On Edge After Film Screenings Attacked

Kiev's oldest movie theater was set on fire last week while an LGBT film was playing. Men in camouflage tried to stop a second screening days later.

Two suspects have confessed to an arson attack on Kiev's oldest movie theater and are in police custody, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page Saturday.

Ukraine's LGBT community was set on edge after the historic Zhovten theater caught fire Oct. 29 during a film festival that included a program of LGBT-themed movies. Someone in the theater threw a smoke bomb while Summer Nights, a French film about a cross-dressing World War II veteran, was playing, witness Eugen Zelman wrote on Facebook. No one was harmed in the fire.

The state-owned theater has been the subject of an ongoing land dispute, prompting some to question whether the blaze resulted from an anti-LGBT attack or an unrelated scheme to seize control of the space.

The two suspects said they had intended to disrupt the screening of an LGBT film but did not mean to burn down the theater, Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Avakov, wrote on Facebook.

No insults were shouted when the smoke bomb was thrown, Dmitry Pichakhchi of the LGBT organization Fulcrum, who spoke to several people in attendance, told BuzzFeed News by e-mail from Kiev.

At a public demonstration on Friday, Olena Shevchenko of the Ukrainian LGBT organization Insight called for a transparent investigation into the fire.

"Was it a raider attack?" she said, referring to the hostile takeover of state enterprises, which is common in Ukraine. "Was it homophobia? Or did these people use homophobia as the pretense for a raider attack? This is a very important question that must be answered through an investigation."

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Two days after the Zhovten theater fire, about a dozen men in camouflage attempted to shut down another LGBT film screening that was part of the festival, calling it "amoral," Ukraine's Hromadske TV reported. Police blocked them from entering.

Men in military fatigue storm another LGBT movie screening in Kyiv, @HromadskeTV reports

Film festival organizers said the men wore the insignia of Right Sector, a controversial far-right group that played a key role in overthrowing Ukraine's former president Viktor Yanukovych. Right Sector denied planning the attack.

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