For director Evgeny Afineevsky, there was no time to waste in showing the world how ordinary Ukrainians are braving the grinding war with grit and determination in his new documentary at Venice.
“Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”, playing out of competition at the festival, shows the country’s next chapter of struggle following his 2015 Oscar-nominated “Winter on Fire” about the Maidan uprising.
Featuring footage shot as recently as August and edited right up to the eve of the festival, the new documentary has a palpable sense of urgency.
“If today we don’t show the world what exactly is happening inside Ukraine… then we create a new crime,” Afineevsky told journalists on Wednesday.
“That’s why I felt an urgency, despite the ongoing war, despite the situation that’s still on the ground, to bring this reminder,” he added, stressing that Russia’s “imperialistic ambition” would not stop at Ukraine.
– Rot and rainbows –
The film shows ordinary people distributing food, collecting bodies, filling sandbags, attending funerals — what the director called “an exploration of the courage” of Ukrainians.
An old man in Bucha says the war has brought to light “all the rot we have inside”, as he directs a camera crew to the bodies of townspeople shot by Russians.
“There’s a hand lying over there, if you’re interested you can film it,” he says.
Children feature prominently in the film, with 10-year-old Olya pasting rainbows onto the walls of the basement where she is holed up with her mother, feeding stray cats between the shelling, or Makar, 7, pointing out the immense hole in his living room caused by a missile.
“Who is suffering most from the war? Normal people, mothers, fathers, kids, elderly people… living day by day their lives. Not just soldiers on the front lines where we expect to see the war,” said Afineevsky.
He follows one of them, Hanna Zaitseva, living in the underground bunkers of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant with her baby for two months before being evacuated, sent to a Russian filtration camp and turned over to international monitors.
“It’s a real miracle that I am alive and here today,” said Zaitseva, in Venice with Afineevsky. “And this miracle is possible due to our Ukrainian soldiers.”
She has had no word from her husband, who remains a Russian prisoner of war, she told AFP.
– ‘Different planet’ –
Also in Venice was war correspondent Nataliia Nagorna, who features in the film.
She expressed her determination to keep the world’s eyes focused on Ukraine.
“It feels like you’re on a different planet where everyone is happy and where people can live normally,” she said of Venice.
“Remember we also had beautiful cities in Ukraine before they were destroyed by Russian missiles.”
“Europe is concerned today about gas and a cold winter,” she added.
“We are instead concerned about the life of our children.”
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