Documentary about red terror in Kyiv

Я написав цей матеріл англійською мовою для наших закордонних колег, багато з яких думають що нинішня війна з Росією є лише випадковим непорозумінням через жорстку позицію Українскої влади. Незабаром я підготую його перклад українською і також опубілікую на блозі.


Among rare pieces of archive cinema footages which survived form the period of Ukrainian revolution 1917-1921, there is one which stands aside from the mainstream of those days documentary. Usually we can see the political leaders and public meetings, like in “Ukrainian movement” (1917) or we can see the military forces on parades and in ordinary life like in “Ukrainians in Wetzlar” (1918) or in “Miliraty parade” (filmed on Sophyivska square in Kyiv in summer of 1918). Sometimes ordinary people or landscapes were filmed like in “Pictures of the Crimean peninsula” (1918). But film “Victims V.U.CH.K. in Ukraine” is completely different. Most of it shows the results of work of communist secret police (All-Ukrainian Extraordinary Commission on Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage) in occupied territories of Ukraine in 1919. Dead bodies are filmed explicitly right after the excavation of common graves made within areas adjacent to the houses which were the sites of the CH.K. Such approach is not usual for the archive cinema footages of First World War and its consequences. Those events gave a lot of possibilities for filming dead bodies, but mostly it was done from a distance, for example on the battlefield, or in short frames, giving a viewer no time to see the details. There were some exceptions, especially in the beginning of Great War, because some cameramen where shocked seeing such life waste which in the fields Belgium France and West Ukraine. But even if such images were shot, most of them did not get into newsreels. That is why films like “J’accuse” (1919) by Abel Gance with the parade of the dead, made such a deep impression on the public. The authors of “Victims V.U.CH.K. in Ukraine” seems had the same goal, they wanted to draw attention of wide audience to the terrible tortures made by communist secret police. There may be also another goal. The film was shot on the territory occupied by white Russian army. There was a “Special commission to investigate the atrocities of the Bolsheviks” which arranged the investigations of the executions, in archives of this commission there is a large number of photographs which are very similar to the images of the film. So it could be a document made for that commission.

Analyze of the whole film shows that it is a compilation from at least 4 different films, with some addition of the material from footages not related to theme. It can be said both from the titles and from the images. All titles are made in Russian with the prerevolutionary orthography, which was used in white army.

First of all there are images of Kyiv sites of the CH.K., with the titles made by art-Nouveau style font. Then we have title made by Durango style font with the corresponding image, also filmed in Kyiv. After that we came back to art-Nouveau style titles. In the middle of the film there is a scene from the cemetery preceded by title made by handwriting style font. Next there is a title in English which is probably a second part of at least three-frame titles, because sentence has not start and not end. It has nothing in common with the film theme. Then we go back to the art-Nouveau style titles and the images of Kyiv. Shortly there is Durango style titles, which probably bears the name of one of the films of the compilation “Horrors of Kiev. Terrible slaughters of the Bolsheviks”. In short time we can see title which can probably show us the name of the other film from compilation “Horrors of Kharkyv Extraordinary Commission”. It is print style letters are made by hand, and very unevenly. Next titles are also about Kharkyv, they are made with a Constacia font. They also have a notable close frames, unlike other titles. The last title in the film which ends it is an offer to send help to the Red Cross. It is written in English, so it is probably do not have anything in common with the theme. On the other hand the member of the Red Cross gave some help to people arrested by CH.K., so it could be pledge for help connected with the film theme.

So we can resume that probably there were at least two films about Kyiv events, one of them could be called “Horrors of Kiev. Terrible slaughters of the Bolsheviks”. There is also a film or newsreel, from which a cemetery scene is taken.  There is also at least one film about Kharkyv. It is hard to say is the title “Horrors of Kharkyv Extraordinary Commission” made by different font belongs to the additional film, because there are no other signs of it.

Images shown in film are often hard to identify, because modern Kyiv and Kharkyv are very different from the ones filmed.

In Kyiv CH.K. divided in two main branches: V.U.CH.K., in which V.U. means “All- Ukrainian” and Gub. CH.K., which is a regional department. They worked in parallel on elimination of society upper classes and all other who were not happy with the Bolsheviks. Among buildings used by CH.K. there were number 5 on Sadova street, number 40 on Institutska street, numbers 16, 13, 15, and 17 on Ekaterininska street, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on Elisavetinska street and number 1 on Lipsky lane. Only some of those buildings survived to our time. We have almost no pictures of those buildings, that is why hard to determine what exactly is shown on film. Among those buildings were former Hetman residence on Institutska street 40 (blown by polish army in 1920) and Ekaterininska street 16, where now the Institute of National memory is located.

The film is opening with image of the street filled by people dressed as middle class; some of them are trying to look over the fence into the garden. It could be near one of the main sites of CH.K. where execution took place: Institutska street 40, Sadova street 5, or Ekaterininska street 16. Then title says that we will see the building of V.U.CH.K. The documents of “Special commission to investigate the atrocities of the Bolsheviks” give us the address Ekaterininska street 16. But we can clearly see that building shown in film is different. It could be any of other buildings which was used by CH.K.

Following views of courtyard of the building are even harder to determine. Then we see the panorama of the execution place twice. Probably it was made for viewer to give them some time to understand what is shown. Then, title says that we see the garden of Gub. CH.K., which, by the documents, was located in the former Hetman residence on Institutska street 40. The only images that could be compared to garden footage is the part of “Documents of Epoch” (1927) which shows banquet of Hetman Skoropadsky. Unfortunately it is impossible to be sure was this banquet filmed in the garden of Hetman residence. So without further research we cannot determine is this the garden on Institutska street 40. Those images could be made in Sadova street 5 where also was a garden.

In the next title we see the number of 127 victims found in one of the graves. Such number can be found in documents of “Special commission to investigate the atrocities of the Bolsheviks” in description of Sadova street 5.

The following episode shows us the citizens of Kyiv on demonstration. The most interesting there is a watchman equipped in elements of western uniform, which look unusual because mostly on the pictures which show us white army soldiers, they are dressed like former imperial army.

The agitations train in the following episode is at least partly captures from reds, because we see a soviet signs on one of the railway carriages. The other interesting feature is carriage colored in Russian tricolor.

After the cemetery scene we can clearly see the Kyiv building on Ekaterininska street 16. After that title says that we will see Gub.CH.K. on Sadova street 5 – Institutska street 40. Unfortunately we see only a corner of the street where it impossible to see any landmarks.

Next group of titles says us that we will see V.U.CH.K. on Ekaterininska street 16. The image is a mirrored frame which show the same location as after previous title. Panorama is longer and we see a corner of the building among the trees, but it is too small to determine the location.

Next image show us the street bordered by trees, and no landmarks.

Then we see the Kharkyv part of the film which is filled mostly with the dead bodies with only a few landmarks in the beginning.

From the current edit of this film we can say that probably some parts of the original films, from which the compilation was made were lost, some titles may be in the wrong place. But the material is of the great value, not only for understanding the meaning of Bolshevik regime, but also as an image of the old Kyiv and Kharkyv and their inhabitants.

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