Documentaries Show Ukrainian Resolve in the Face of Russian Aggression

Since Russia invaded and occupied Crimea and launched a separatist war in the east of Ukraine two and a half years ago, more than 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed (36 in July 2016 alone). More than 6,500 civilians have been killed and 1.8 million people have been displaced. Ukrainians are paying a dear price for choosing Europe over Vladimir Putin’s dream of an expanded Russian empire.

The individual stories of how Ukrainians are coping during the Russian aggression are compelling; Internews has commissioned two film series to document Ukrainian courage in the face of Russian hostility.

Displaced tells in 12 parts the stories of internally displaced Ukrainians, each one personal and universal at the same time.

Return tells stories of volunteers and war veterans who must overcome serious physical and mental injuries sustained during the conflict — the challenges they face dealing with life-changing injuries, how civil society groups and international donors helped with their rehabilitation, and the courage they display every step of the way to resuming their lives as productive citizens.

The films do not dwell on the politics of the Ukraine-Russia conflict — they focus on the resolve and determination of citizens and soldiers to persevere and ultimately triumph under the worst of conditions.

The main goal in the Displaced series was to show Ukrainians that the displaced people in their cities are not liabilities, as surveys of host communities say is the prevailing attitude today, but are actually beneficial to their new homes — often starting their own businesses and contributing in many ways to their communities, as immigrants have proven to do around the world.

In “Fighter,” part of the Displaced series, world class athlete Oleksy Drobiazko is forced to flee from his home in Avdiivka near Donetsk after being imprisoned by pro-Kremlin separatists; he not only adjusts to living in his new city of Zolotonosha in government-controlled Ukraine, he starts sports clubs, raises money to fix the town’s potholed roads, and inspires the entire community to get active and improve their lives.

In Return we teamed filmmakers with a local NGO called the Free People Employment Center; this group helps war-injured people rehabilitate from their wounds, physical and mental, and helps them get active in society — the Center wanted to show that disabled people, with some support and understanding, can be just as useful to society as the able-bodied.

In “German,” part of the Return series, Mykola Zmiyevsky, an imposing 6-foot 5-inch tall sniper in the Ukrainian army, returns from the front physically fit, but psychologically damaged. He loses his family and struggles to come to terms with the death and destruction he has seen; with counseling, he gradually finds his way back from the depths of depression, and finds a new calling as a barista, practicing the craft that he became known and beloved for in his company on the front lines of the war.

The 12 films in the Displaced series were produced by and broadcast on Ukraine’s newly established public service broadcaster, UA:Pershy (First National) TV, in early 2016. The four films in the Return series premiered at a cinema in Kiev in June and have been on a regular broadcast rotation on the National 5th Channel network since that time.

Watch more: The Displaced series is available on YouTube. The four-part Return series can be found in this article from the Kyiv Post (subscription may be required).

Wayne Sharpe is Director of Internews in Ukraine.

(This story was originally posted on Medium.)