Russia-Ukraine clashes reach the red carpet

Philip Illienko`s demands to ban Russian movies he considered anti-Ukrainian used to be met with short shrift but now he is the one calling the shots. 

AFP| Updated: Oct 12, 2014, 10:57 AM IST

Moscow: Philip Illienko`s demands to ban Russian movies he considered anti-Ukrainian used to be met with short shrift but now he is the one calling the shots. 

In 2012, Illienko protested the premiere of a Russian film in a Kiev cinema that he and his friends found deeply offensive.

The movie, called "Match", was a World War II period drama depicting a football game between the imprisoned residents of Soviet-era Kiev and the soldiers of occupying German troops.

Illienko said its portrayal of Ukrainians as Nazi collaborationists who embraced the drive to exterminate Kiev`s Jewish population was inaccurate and outrageous.

Some of the protesters -- mostly from Ukraine`s nationalist Svoboda party -- ended up in jail. Others were beaten by the infamous Berkut riot police.

Two years later, Illienko has his revenge. 

Berkut has been disbanded by Kiev`s new pro-Western leadership and he has been put at the helm of Ukraine`s state film agency. 

Last month he saw to it that "Match" was banned from distribution, along with 12 other pro-Russian movies.

"Maybe our society could tolerate it earlier, but not now, now we are at war," Illienko said of the film, which he described as "one of the more odious examples of modern Russian propaganda."

The sweeping political changes in Ukraine -- which have seen eastern regions plunged into a bloody pro-Russian rebellion -- have sparked not only an armed conflict on the ground but also a cultural war between Moscow and Kiev.

Several Russian TV channels have been banned and media authorities last month asked newspapers to stop publishing their listings.

Moscow has in turn branded anti-Russian performers as traitors, forcing many stars to keep a low profile.

Even buxom drag queen sensation Verka Serdyuchka -- once a staple of Russian state television and winner of its top music award the Golden Gramophone in 2011 -- has stayed away from the spotlight during the war.

The extravagant Ukrainian pop star, real name Andriy Danylko, "has cancelled all concerts in Russia and Ukraine because he believes having fun in such a difficult time is inappropriate," his representative said over email.The supercharged atmosphere means former cultural and political allies are now arch-foes cancelling concerts and taking programming off air.

"We have to protect our informational field, our sphere of culture, from the enemy influence," said Illienko, whose agency plans to ban more movies.

Among the red flags are films that glorify Russian soldiers, depict the annexed Crimean peninsula, portray Ukrainians as "traitors or idiots", manipulate history, or are made by people who have been hotly in favour of Kremlin`s Ukraine policy, he told AFP in his Kiev office.

Ukrainian artists who have been crowd favourites in Russian show business have meanwhile been ostracised in both countries.

Clashes erupted at a summer concert in Odessa of Ani Lorak, a Ukrainian-born diva known for romantic hits and skimpy dresses. 

Ukrainian nationalists from the hardline Right Sector party descended on the Black Sea city, demanding the event be cancelled and protesting Lorak`s ties with Russia.

The exasperated singer, whose real name is Karolina Kuiek, was forced to appeal on her website for the politicians not to use her name in their "dirty games" and assured she is a patriot who loves Ukraine.

Meanwhile, veteran Russian rocker Andrei Makarevich, who publicly opposed the Kremlin`s foreign policy, was exposed to a Soviet-style defamation campaign for playing a concert in east Ukraine`s Slavyansk after pro-Russian separatists were driven out in July.

State television accused him of supporting Kiev`s propaganda, and some compared his performance to that of playing under Nazi occupation "with swastikas hanging in the background". 

Several of his concerts in Russia were cancelled. One was pepper-sprayed and stopped.

The attacks were so vicious that Makarevich, 60, asked President Vladimir Putin to do something to stop the "orgy" of lies.

Illienko said Moscow`s portrayal of all Ukrainians as fascists was one of the "falsehoods" fuelling the conflict.

"We dont want to help (Russia) promote aggression inside our society," he said. "This would be treason to those people fighting and risking their lives on the frontline."