A new documentary film has revealed that the purported mastermind behind Femen, the Ukrainian feminist group famous for its topless protests, is in fact a man who calls women "bitches."
"Ukraine Is Not a Brothel" -- which premiers on September 5 at the Venice Film Festival -- shines a rare spotlight on the daily lives of the campaigners and delves into the role of a man named Viktor Svyatskiy within the movement. The movie was made by 28-year-old Australian filmmaker Kitty Green, who spent a year in Kyiv filming and sharing a flat with Femen activists.
While Svyatskiy is no stranger in Ukraine, where he has gained notoriety as Femen's ideologist, the fact that a man had such influence over a group known for its radical feminist stance may surprise Western observers.
Femen leader Inna Shevchenko said the group has parted ways with Svyatskiy since the film was made. She also plays down his role in launching Femen.
"Rumors are spreading that Viktor founded the movement,” Shevchenko said. “I will not allow anyone to say that a man founded Femen, because this is not the case.”
Viktor Svyatskiy was brutally beaten late on July 24, leaving him with a broken jaw and missing teeth.
Shevchenko said the film shows Svyatskiy emerged as a dominant element only after the movement had developed its topless strategy and its ideology. “Femen was founded in 2008 by Ukrainian female students," she said.
Little is known about Svyatskiy, who has been described in the media as a political scientist and a Femen activist, adviser, or "political consultant."
In July, unknown assailants savagely beat him up near the group's office in Kyiv, breaking his jaw and knocking out several of his teeth.
Ukrainian media aired footage of him shortly after the assault wearing a Femen t-shirt, with his face heavily bruised and being helped by a visibly concerned Femen member.
The group, which moved its headquarters to France last year, blamed the attack on Ukrainian security services and described it as a warning to Femen not to go ahead with a planned protest in Kyiv.
Not A Pretty Picture
"Ukraine Is Not a Brothel" paints a bleak portrait of Svyatskiy.
While acknowledging Svyatskiy’s talent in orchestrating the group's media stunts, the filmmaker Green said he ruthlessly bossed the women around, humiliated them, and called them "bitches."
"These girls are weak," he says in the film. "They show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors that prevent them from becoming political activists. These are qualities which it was essential to teach them."
Director Kitty Green (right) and Femen activist Inna Shevchenko pose at the 70th Venice Film Festival.
Green said that Svyatskiy hand-picked attractive women to take part in the topless protests, "because the prettiest girls get on the front page."
The film also raises questions about Svyatskiy’s motives for getting involved with Femen. Asked by Green if he founded Femen to "get girls," Svyatskiy replies: "Perhaps yes, somewhere in my deep [sub]conscious."
Never Tried To Hide It
Shevchenko said that Femen has never tried to conceal Svyatskiy's influence.
She and others candidly address the issue in the film, including one member who compares the activists' relationship with Svyatskiy to the Stockholm Syndrome – where hostages become attached to their captor.
"There really was a moment when we became confronted with patriarchy, which we fight all around the world,” Shevchenko said. “This man took control of our movement for a while, just because he was a man."
Shevchenko said she believes Svyatskiy may have played an instrumental role in the group's success by galvanizing its activists against male chauvinism.
She said she also hopes that Svyatskiy's intimidating presence in "Ukraine Is Not a Brothel" and Femen's ultimate emancipation will help women around the world reclaim their dignity.
"We talk about this episode as something that can serve as an example for millions of women who every day face the same kind of treatment from men at home, at work, and elsewhere," Shevchenko said.