Watching the Twitter footage of the bombed out Youth Centre cinema in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, I was reminded of the National Picture Theatre in the UK city of Hull.
The latter cinema was largely destroyed by a German bomb in March 1941. When the air-raid siren sounded, the cinema was screening Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” Amazingly none of the 150 patrons inside were injured or killed, having escaped before the bomb hit.
After the end of the war the cinema remained a ruin, with just the front facade still standing. For 80 years nothing was done to it, other than endless discussions about whether it should be torn down, restored or turned into a memorial. In 2021 the United Kingdom’s National Lottery Heritage Fund finally awarded a GBP £227,600 grant to a restoration project for the site that would cover repair and conservation work at the site. This will include the full restoration of the facade, while the inside will be a flexible arts and events space, with a memorial section.
We do not know how long the war in Ukraine will go on, nor how many more people will be killed and buildings destroyed. Having failed to conquer a single major Ukrainian city in the first two weeks of the war, the Russian army appears to have switched tactics to shelling the cities indiscriminately. Residential areas, schools, hospitals and, yes, cinemas are being reduced to rubble almost in real time on our television screens. A nightmare straight from the worst war films is playing out for real, with no happy ending guaranteed. The only constant heroism on display seems to come from Ukrainians who, rather than flee, have been staying behind to fight for their country. We witnessed this first-hand during last week’s CJ Cinema Summit. You can view the session on demand.
The war will eventually end – and not to the Russia government’s advantage. There will come a time to rebuild Ukraine and hopefully that will include the Youth Centre cinema in Chernihiv, though at the moment the focus has to be to defend Ukraine, save lives, help refugees and punish the Kremlin for its actions by imposing harsh sanctions of Russia. This week we have seen everyone from Netflix and Spotify to Coca-Cola and McDonalds pull out from Russia. We can only hope that the time for fighting ends soon and the rebuilding starts soon after. It mustn’t take 80 years there as it did in Hull.
Cinemas are currently dark in Ukraine, or being used as emergency shelters and aid distribution centres. Polish cinemas are screening films in Ukrainian for refugees, while a Polish cinema called Kino Moskwa is considering changing its name. Festivals around the world are playing Ukrainian films and cinemas are donating proceeds to Ukrainian-related disaster relief funds. But the most heartening piece of news was the volunteers who set up a pop-up movie club for the children in Dorogozhychy – one of Kyiv’s metro stations – currently being used as a bomb shelter. Cinema will be back in Ukraine. Slava Ukraini!
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