20 of the best films to help understand what’s happening in Ukraine | Movies

1. Oxygen Starvation (1992)

One of the first non-state funded films of an independent Ukraine, this study of a Ukrainian soldier dealing with the traditional abuse handed out to new recruits in the Soviet army is based on the real-life experiences of director Andrii Donchyk and writer Yurii Andrukhovych.

A documentary that started shooting only days after the catastrophic nuclear power plant explosion. Director Volodymyr Shevchenko died of radiation poisoning a month after its release.

3. Tomorrow Is a Holiday (1987)

Shot at the start of the “perestroika” era, this exposed the difficulties of everyday life at a poultry processing factory. Very different from the then standard propaganda film, this depicted a deep social crisis in Soviet society.

4. The Wall (1988)

Documentary about the destruction of the Wall of Memory, the monumental avant-garde reliefs at Kyiv crematorium that artists Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko had been working on since 1968, after local authorities concreted them over in 1982. Restoration of the artwork finally began in August 2021.

5. Levels of Democracy (1992)

A montage of rough video telling the story of the mass demonstrations that took place in Kyiv during the last years of perestroika and the first year of independence in 1991 – in particular, the congress of the People’s Movement of Ukraine.

6. Varta1, Lviv, Ukraine (2015)

Documentary exploring the activities of the Automaidan movement, a group of activist drivers who used the digital radio channel Varta 1 to briefly patrol the streets of Lviv after the police withdrew in response to the angry protests of February 2014.

7. Maidan (2014)

Sergei Loznitsa’s study of the Revolution of Dignity in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 that recorded various stages of the protest on a fixed camera. The wide international reach of Loznitsa’s unbiased view of chaotic historical events meant it became one of Euromaidan’s most important documents.

8. The Black Book of Maidan (2014)

A formidable piece of collaborative documentary film-making by a group of second-year students recreating the taut emotional challenges of the experience of directly participating in a revolution.

9. Euromaidan: The Rough Cut (2014)

Produced by the artistic collective #BABYLON’13, a collection of footage from the best Ukrainian directors of the new generation asking the audience – in the makers’ words – to “live through three months of protest” together with them.

A ground-level study of the revolutionary events of Maidan co-directed by Oleksandr Techinskyi, Aleksey Solodunov and Dmitry Stoykov showing the multi-faceted nature of the revolution, and of Ukrainian society itself.

11. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)

Probably the best known of all Maidan documentaries, an Oscar-nominated film directed by Israeli-American Evgeny Afineevsky that presents a clear narrative of a complex chain of events. It’s been on Netflix since 2015 and has become one of the most widely watched accounts of recent Ukrainian history.

Successful documentary about a Donbas family – single mother Hanna and her four children – who hide their war-zone fear behind their passion for playing music and making movies about themselves. A quote from a poem by Paul Éluard forms the film’s title, a perfect metaphor for the surreal world between war and peace.

13. War Note (2020)

A diary film of personal videos of Ukrainian soldiers who have been defending Donbas since 2014 shows the war in unprecedented close-up. The captions indicate that some of the diarists did not survive the conflict.

With a title referring to Dziga Vertov’s 1931 Soviet-worker propaganda film Enthusiasm: The Symphony of Donbas, this archive-montage film by Ihor Minaiev traces the industrial myth of the Donbas from Soviet times through the chaotic 1990s and beyond. Helpful for understanding the background of the occupation of the Donetsk region in 2014 by the Putin regime.

15. Stronger Than Arms (2019)

Another resistance-cinema product of the #BABYLON’13 collective about the Ukrainian revolution and subsequent war in eastern Ukraine. The title is derived from a phrase one of the film-makers heard: “Your cameras are stronger than arms.”

16. No Obvious Signs (2018)

The title alludes to a phrase doctors use to describe soldiers who need help with mental traumas. A film about a female military officer who is undergoing a long rehabilitation as she tries to come to terms with the horrors of war, this is an expansion of the human rights project Invisible Battalion, which campaigns for gender equality in the Ukrainian military.

Acclaimed film set in 2025 – a year after Ukraine’s “victory” in the war with Russia – about a former army scout who is part of a humanitarian mission that looks for and exhumes the bodies of dead soldiers.

From prominent director Sergei Loznitsa, a kaleidoscope of stories about the conflict in Donbas: a producer for a propaganda TV channel, militiamen searching checkpoints, field commanders posing for journalists, a bandit wedding. Inspired by YouTube videos from Donetsk and Luhansk, this is a study of war and post-truth.

19. Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die (2017)

One of Ukraine’s highest grossing films tells the story of a Ukrainian battalion’s two-week mission at Donetsk airport in 2014 while it was under attack from pro-Russian militants. Along with the fighting, the soldiers try to comprehend numerous philosophical questions about the nature of war, the enemy and their own identity as Ukrainians.

Beautifully resonant drama that reflects on the relations between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians. One of Mustafa’s son dies in the war in eastern Ukraine and, together with his other son, takes the body to Crimea for burial. It is about the alienation felt when people are excluded from society, from each other and from a whole nation.

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