Colonial Megalomania of Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center

He started asking me to rewrite something in the script, it happened several times, and at a certain point, I ceased to understand what he exactly wanted. I asked: Ilya, please explain, what do you want? He answered: I want there to be, um, well, kinda… actually, EVERYTHING! Then I replied: Ilya, it’s not my thing. I cannot do EVERYTHING. That’s where we went our separate ways.

Vladimir Sorokin, the first scriptwriter of the DAU film series


 This text contains brief mentions of extreme atrocities.


DAU Begins With…

In summer 2007, a video called “Execution of a Dag [a Russia slur for a Dagestani] and a Tajik” appeared in the Russian segment of the Internet. Two men tell on camera that they have been “arrested by the Russian National Socialists”, and then they are killed against a background of a swastika flag. A male voice-over sings a popular Soviet song “Motherland Begins With…”

Later Russian Federation law enforcement confirmed that this double murder is not staged and in fact took place, and an investigation (available online) by Israeli journalist Vladi Antonevich identified three persons that participated in the shooting. These were the leaders of  the Russian neo-Nazi movement of the day, Sergei “Malyuta” Korotkikh, Maksim “Tesak” [“Meat Cleaver”] Martsinkevich, and Dmytro “Germanych” Rumiantsev. This story had a large public resonance in Russia. Gradually, Martsinkevich became the entire post-Soviet space’s top neo-Nazi, in particular, even before the era of social networks having invented the practice of viral videos, which viewers copied from each other’s to CD-ROMs. On an endless number of videos by Format-18 studio (where 18 stands for Adolf Hitler) Tesak and his mates hunt minorities and torture them physically and psychologically, in particular, they used to pump some seaming foam into gay’s anus. When Sergei Korotkikh in his memorial video stream explains to the audience that virtually the entire post-Soviet neo-Nazi movement, the entire new generation that has emerged over the past fifteen years, is Tesak’s achievement, he can be trusted. 

Russia’s aughts were characterized by several different parallel processes. One of them is an increasing role of a media industry through pumping huge funding into it. In his book “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible” British journalist Peter Pomerantsev shows from his then experience in working in the Russian media industry, how performance art became fashionable entertainment of the rich, and how media industry, where huge funding was pumped into, normalized ultimate refrain from consistent beliefs and consistent roles.  A split into a public personality, which does (for money) some unethical things, and into a kind and pleasant person in one’s private life, became a local norm of politics and behavior. “You just reorganize your emotional life so as not to care.”

The second phenomenon is a wide spreading, partially from Kremlin’s initiative, of far-right movements. After the Georgian and Ukrainian revolutions of 2003 and 2004, respectively, the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation began to develop a “preventive counterrevolution” policy, or an enhanced control on other former Soviet republics. This policy, led by Vladislav Surkov, facilitated the rapid growth in the number and influence of far-right movements, and some organizations, such as Russkii Obraz, were directly supervised by the presidential administration (read more in recent Robert Horvat’s book Putin’s Fascists: Russkii Obraz and the Politics of Managed Nationalism in Russia). Murders and tortures towards people of color were so common that the total number of victims was not even necessarily counted accurately, but when it was, the numbers were shocking.  “NSS North”, a split-off from Rumiantsev and Korotkikh National Socialist Society, only during the first half of 2008 committed 27 hate murders, confirmed in court. Arthur Ryno, 17, an art college student and iconographer, caught red-handed by his victim’s body, listed 37 victims when interrogated. In autumn 2009 Bolotnaya square in Moscow enjoyed a concert of Kolovrat (Sonnenrad) band, with five thousand visitors. The author of this text is personally acquainted with people from Russian antifa community, whom Tesak threatened to murder. 

The first phenomenon gave rise to the film project “DAU” by Ilya Khrzhanovsky, funded by the Russian oligarch Sergei Adoniev. Its author constantly splits his description of the project into interchangeably “immersive” or staged, nowhere near can draw the line between the two, and claims a positive reputation despite strong ethical issues with project production.  Tesak, the owner of the specific charisma and ingenuity, took advantage of both the first and the second phenomenon. At some point in time, Khrzhanovsky and Tesak were destined to get together.

Maksim “Tesak” Martsinkevich and Vladimir Ajippo, who performed an NKVD officer. Spring 2020, Masters Journal cover page


Fascist coup

In autumn 2011, Martsinkevich, together with Rumiantsev, was invited to participate in the DAU cinema project. On the film set he acted in full accordance to his political views and practices, particularly, threatened a US gay man Andrew Ondrejcak promising “to feed him to the pigs”, and also, as an homage to “Execution of a Dag and a Tajik”, singing “Motherland Begins With…”, butchered a pig on camera, with a Star of David cut on its body. Ironically, a real Lev Landau was convicted in 1938 particularly as a member of the Moscow Committee of Anti-Fascist Workers Party for a leaflet particularly saying “Don’t you see, comrades, that a Stalin’s clique committed a fascist coup?” In summer 2020 Martsinkevich died in a Russian prison, serving his fourth prison time. DAU project submitted a positive characteristic of him to the court and sent a flower tribute to his funeral.

A flower tribute to Martsinkevich from DAU project. Photo source: “Volga-Kaspiy”


There is no shortage of other evidence besides neo-Nazism, that Khrzhanovsky used to have a far from ethical atmosphere at the workplace. I will list just a few of the facts:

  • during the filming, Natalia Berezhnaya was most probably raped with a bottle in actual fact;
  • job reward was a subject of fraud;
  • babies were “rented” from Kharkiv orphanage and visibly suffered on screen;
  • a primary demand to be selected to work for the project was consent for drinking;
  • “This all looks like kinda slavery” ();
  • The essence of all of this was lust, felt by a demiurge leering another persons’ humiliation”.

Even those in favor of the project note that no one utters stop words there. Later, after invited as an art director to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, Khrzhanovsky asked female employees at job talks whether they were ready to dance on the table, held work meetings in the toilet, and did not let his subordinates go to lunch break. 

If you read up to this point and assume that a person with such a track record will have difficulties adhering to the ethics of Holocaust memorialization, then I can congratulate you on acquiring the label of anti-Semitic, which is generously given by Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s supporters to his critics (explicitly advertising materials in the media are also put under the same category). If people with a good reputation, including rabbis, Jewish studies professors, leaders of Jewish organizations, and personally Amik Diamant, who rediscovered Babyn Yar as a place of remembrance in 1966, for some reason turn out to be “anti-Semites” and an “organized crime group”, it is only possible if the word “anti-Semitism” is grossly manipulated. However, even here the problematic nature of the project of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center headed by Khrzhanovsky just begins. KORYDOR has already written about the distortion of historical memory embedded in the project at the level of a basic approach to memorialization. In an year since this material was written (a detailed chronology of everything that happened around the project during last year was collected by Ivan Kozlenko), the project began the construction on the site of a former Jewish cemetery, which is strictly forbidden by the ethics of Judaism; the Ukrainian professional community and Jewish civil society and religious leaders wrote a total of three (1, 2, 3) open letters criticizing the project with a total amount of thousands of signatures under them; and the presented concepts of memorialization expectedly appeared to be far from professional ethics in general. For instance, immersive virtual reality practices are recommended by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (p.3.2.7) to be used from the standpoint of a bystander and not an executioner (which is quite logical, since otherwise on the very second day of implementation the memorial will become a playground for local neo-Nazis, who will hurry up to shoot the Jews at least in VR if they could not do it for real). The logic and ethics of the intention “to bring together the descendants of victims and collaborators in one space” to create a “safe place” for the former are also at least counter-intuitive. 

Installations at Babyn Yar, September 2020, unofficially called “dementors”. Photo source: Galina Kharaz


However, the presence in the project of large sums of money from Mikhail Friedman (who lent to Russian defense during the war with Ukraine and is on the US pre-sanctions list together with Herman Khan) and Pavel Fuchs (who is involved in corruption schemes in the Kyiv underground) expectedly influenced the rapid allot of the land plot to the memorial, without public hearings and taking into consideration numerous critical publications in the media. (And only non-transparency and probable corruption can explain the fact that, while a state project of memorialization of this territory exists as well, moreover, supported by the wider public, statesmen, as Kozlenko shows in his text, clearly prefer the private one).  In a year since the scandal began, Kyiv City Council deputies from the “Holos” and “European Solidarity” also spoke out against the presence of Russian money and against an art director who positively characterized the neo-Nazi, the fact that to some extent slowed down the very process. However, the construction, and not of a “small architectural form”, as stated in the documentation for the Kyiv City Council, but of a full-fledged stationary building, has already begun. All this controversy directly violates Article 5 of the International Memorial Museums Charter, which states that fundamental decisions concerning contents and design of the memorial concepts should be made based on an open professional discussion.

The recently introduced new memorialization concept looks more like the megalomaniacal desire “to have there, um, well, kinda… actually, EVERYTHING”, rather than delicate work on subtle topics within one’s qualifications. For instance, the concept announces a “centre for aggression studies and posttraumatic mental health” and a “space for prayer, where you can find yourself in a synagogue, a Christian church, a mosque, or a secular space” (what does exactly it mean to “find yourself”?). The concept includes “VR installation of crowd scenes”, “in which all the technology will help the visitor or viewer to become a witness to the scene, to find himself inside the event” (and then to visit the centre for aggression studies and posttraumatic mental health). “Watson Salembier proposed to re-sacralize the site, firstly by bringing the ancient streams of Babyn Yar back up to the surface” (such a thing already happened in 1961 and is called Kurenivka tragedy, with approximately 1,500 people died). Whether the concept generally conforms to at least the minimal requirements of scientific rigor, one can determine from the following quotation: “The more we study the brain under altered states, the more we understand the sophisticated technology employed in sacred structures. Scientists are finding the frequencies, forms, and matter that effects and the evidence that we’ve been experimenting with them for tens of thousands of years.”


Little Zaches named Khrzhanovsky

“Before watching Natasha I thought a lot about a colonial nesting doll: in the late aughts a privileged male from Moscow creative intelligentsia arrived in poor Kharkiv and abused locals for his pleasure, and then Berlinale pickers and some part of a foreign media came to watch this in their pith helmets since Western European ethical norms do not apply to Eastern Europeans” — Russian cinema critic Maria Kuvshinova comments flabby reaction of the Berlinale festival on the labor conditions of Khrzhanovsky cinema product, presented there. The same applies not only to cinema critics but also to those Western Europeans who attempt to collaborate to BYHMC now. Central European University professor Andrea Peto works in the field of gender studies and far-right politics, and also personally confirmed to the author of this text that she is aware of Khrzhanovsky’s controversial track record. But this awareness did not prevent her to start her collaboration with BYHMC as a Scientific Council member. From this fact I cannot draw any other conclusion than to suggest that, for Ms.Professor, Eastern European women, gays, and Dags with Tajiks are Untermenschen, and the rights not to receive a bottle into a vagina, some sealing foam into an anus and a knife into a throat do not apply to them. A Kharkiv city forum user, who worked as a logistics contractor at DAU production and warned others about possible failure to receive one’s wages, being surprised and outraged with that, uses the wording “but they seemed to be intellectuals!”. For him, intellectuals’ qualities begin with fulfilling their labor obligations. For a real intellectual, as it looks like, even direct violence is not inappropriate, of course, if it is applied to Eastern Europeans. A demiurge, who used to feel lust leering another persons’ humiliation, becomes a respected person and a well-fit colleague of a Holocaust researcher.

Only colonial longevity makes possible that a long list of abuses, which can automatically ruin anyone’s reputation in the West, have zero effect on anything in Ukraine and is covered up by professors of highly-ranked European universities. Khrzhanovsky becomes a kind of Little Zaches, in whom everyone sees only positive sides, and all negative information becomes completely ignored. But academic literature on colonialism widely knows the boomerang effect — when cruel practices, first developed in colonies, later could be applied to metropolis residents. For instance, in between the DAU shootings and art directorship at the Holocaust memorial in Kyiv Khrzhanovsky has already offered an art project of The Wall replica to Berlin (the city council refused this offer, though not out of ethical concerns, but out of security ones). Maksim Martsinkevich has never been to Western Europe, but his colleague Denis Nikitin is well-known among the European far-right — he used to live in Germany for a long time, where he owned a clothing brand “White Rex”. Actually, researchers derive the history of the Holocaust not only from anti-Semitism but also from colonial practices and racism (read more in George L. Mosse Towards the Final Solution).  Peter Pomerantsev ends his book by telling how Russian moneybags colonize Great Britain step-by-step, moving out there their assets and families. It is in London where the DAU movie series, founded by Sergei Adoniev, one of those moneybags, were cut. This entire story is not only about Ukraine, not only about disputed territory near “Dorohozhychi” subway station, not only about comic and ugly installations, not only about re-writing local history and local authorities corruption. It is about the lessons of WWII, and the entire world learned them worse than we used to think.


Instead of an Afterword, or Mononoke

Photo source: Galina Kharaz

 Now the power over what is happening around Babyn Yar does not belong neither to the professional community nor to the Kyiv residents, who are instead “treated”, as in Russia’s aughts, by media means — the memorial publishes a free newspaper for residents of Dorogozhychi district with interviews with Vitali Klitschko and crossword puzzles. The policy of promotion and implementation of the project is conducted by aggressive means, and the project itself looks, as it was predictably expected from the DAU experience, like a demiurgic and humiliating implementation of “everything” at the cost of meaning and production ethics.  This whole story has gone so far and revealed so much inappropriate that the entire BYHMC implementation project should be completely stopped, and the reputation of all those involved in the project as of today should be revised.