MOSCOW -- Well-known Russian film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was convicted in a controversial embezzlement case last year which many considered politically motivated, will leave the Gogol-Center theater in Moscow after city authorities refused to extend his agreement.
Serebrennikov, whose contract expires on February 25, wrote about the situation on Instagram on February 9, expressing his gratitude "to all my friends, students, and enemies for the unique experience that helped me to learn many things."
"The Gogol-Center continues to live as a theater, as an idea. Because theater...is more important and wider, which means it is more durable than various officials and circumstances, and even more important and wider than its creators. Try to keep the theater alive and have liberty as a necessity for you," he wrote.
Serebrennikov has led the Gogol-Center since its creation in 2012 on the basis of the Moscow Gogol Theater.
Many of Serebrennikov-directed performances, such as Thugs, Metamorphoses, A Dream In A Summer Night, Little Tragedies, etc., have been extremely popular among Muscovites.
Last June, a court in Moscow found Serebrennikov guilty of embezzlement and handed him a suspended, three-year prison term and fined him 800,000 rubles ($10,500).
Serebrennikov's co-defendants, theater producers Yuri Itin and Aleksei Malobrodsky, were also found guilty of embezzlement and received three-year and two-year suspended sentences, respectively. Both also received steep fines.
The fourth defendant, former employee of the Culture Ministry, Sofia Apfelbaum, was found guilty of negligence.
The court also ordered Serebrennikov, Itin, and Malobrodsky to repay nearly 129 million rubles (some $1.7 million) that the court concluded they had embezzled.
Serebrennikov has been hailed as a daring and innovative force on Russia's modern art scene, potentially putting him at odds with cultural conservatives, and has protested government policies in the past.
He has taken part in anti-government protests and voiced concern about the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the country.
Serebrennikov's arrest in August 2017 drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin and his government.
Prominent Russian and international actors, writers, and directors have expressed their support for Serebrennikov and his colleagues. Many regarded the case as politically motivated.
Serebrennikov, Itin, Malobrodsky, and Apfelbaum were accused of embezzling state funds that were granted from 2011 to 2014 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization established by Serebrennikov, for a project called Platforma.
All four have denied any wrongdoing.