Creative Director of Holocaust Memorial Center Accused of Mistreating Orphans on Film Set
24 April, 2020
A screenshot from the film DAU.Degeneration, a cinematic art project focusing on the life of Nobel laureate physicist Lev Landau. Screenshot

Russian film director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, currently the creative director at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, has been accused of mistreating orphans during the shooting of the film DAU.Degeneration, a cinematic art project focusing on the life of Nobel laureate physicist Lev Landau.

Orphans were used in several scenes of the film, which Mykola Kuleba, the Ukrainian children’s ombudsman, says could have resulted in trauma and harm.

“Information and scenes have appeared on [social] networks about the use of children during the shooting of the movie DAU.Degeneration. According to the received preliminary information, the filming used children from an orphanage. In the scenes are children. These are children whose participation in these filmings could have been traumatic for their entire life! And there are other facts that don’t require confirmation,” wrote the ombudsman on Facebook.

As a result of these accusations, the Prosecutor-General’s Office have opened an investigation into the matter, on charges of torture and promoting violence – which could carry combined sentences of 8 to 15 years imprisonment.

“According to information [received] by law enforcement, minors, most likely from an child orphan group, a group of people involved in filmmaking could have been subjected to physical harm or moral suffering by way of violent actions. Additionally, following from some of the published scenes of the film, that the video that these scenes were taken from could have signs of work that promotes a culture of violence, cruelty, or discrimination,” reads a statement published by the PGO.

Reacting to the news, the Babyn Yar Memorial Center has defended its creative director, saying that the accusations are “emotional” and “subjective,” and have called on the public and the media to be “objective” and “wait for the results of the investigation.”

“We are certain that any violence is forbidden: not now, not in the old days. Freedom and human dignity, his life and his rights are the highest values. The Memorial Center defended and will continue to defend these values and extol them in our work,” the Babyn Yar center stated.

“The current appearance of negative commentary about Khrzhanovsky’s work is tied to the appearance of his works on online platforms. We cannot judge these films or methods that they were created by, and we’re waiting for the completion of investigations and the conclusions of the resulting expertise, if it’s required.”

The Center noted that the DAU series of films –  twelve in all – have received high praise from film critics and emphasized that “the DAU film project and the Babyn Yar Memorial Center are entirely disconnected.”

The production company that made the DAU films, Phenomen-Ukraine, have completely disputed the children’s ombudsman’s version of events, with the head of the company, Kristina Voloshyna, saying that the children were not influenced or affected by the props or models of medical and scientific devices. 

She adds that implications of violence were staged in editing, claiming that the soundtrack of the scene where children can be heard being subjected to bullying was maximized during editing in order to maximize audience perceptions, and that all the children on set were accompanied by their official guardians. Voloshyna adds that the guardians have not complained about the company’s behavior, and that all scenes were priorly agreed upon with said guardians.

One of the film’s participants, Elena Ostapchenko, told Bird in Flight that the children were indeed orphans, but that they were accompanied by nurses from the same orphanage, and that the entire shoot was overseen by a doctor. She added that there was a written agreement between the production company and the orphanage’s management.