For 33 years of independence, the Ukrainian film industry has traversed a challenging path: from near-collapse to international recognition. Ukrainian cinema has depicted all significant moments of its modern history – from the Orange Revolution to the Russian occupation – showing the country’s realities through artistic and documentary forms.

In 2022, Ukrainian cinematography demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face of real trials: a full-scale Russian invasion, economic crises, the departure of many specialists from the country, and the enlistment of directors and actors into the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU).

All these factors created unprecedented difficulties for the industry’s development.

Nevertheless, even amid the ongoing war, Ukrainian movies continue to be released, captivating audiences around the world.

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Kyiv Post has compiled a top seven list of films and shows available on the Netflix streaming platform to introduce its readers and subscribers to contemporary Ukrainian cinema.

“My Thoughts Are Silent”

Directed by Antonio Lukich (2019)

The comedy-drama tells the story of Vadim, a twenty-year-old sound engineer who will be relocating from Ukraine to Canada in three months.

Before his departure, he is tasked with recording the voice of a very rare bird that inhabits only the mountains of Zakarpattia, Ukraine.

However, things don’t go smoothly because the main companion at his new job will be a special person for him – his mother.

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For director Antonio Lukich, this work became his debut. The idea for the film originated from the director's observations. Several years ago, Antonio met up with his college mate – a freelancer who made a living by documenting various sounds for European companies.

Once, a German contractor asked him to record sounds produced by animals in Ukraine. Antonio realized that this quirky real-life story would be a good concept for a future film.

Before filming, the crew went on an exploration journey to Zakarpattia, visiting an ostrich farm that later became part of the movie’s script.

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“My Thoughts Are Silent” became the first Ukrainian film to be shown on HBO Europe.

“Luxembourg, Luxembourg”

Directed by Antonio Lukich (2022)

The comedic drama "Luxembourg, Luxembourg" narrates the tale of twin brothers, Mykola and Vasya, whose father, absent during their childhood, passes away in Luxembourg. Kolya considers him a hero, while Vasya thinks he is a scoundrel.

This is the second feature film by Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich, shot in the tragicomedy genre. Filming took place in 2021 in the Poltava region, Kyiv, and at a shooting range in Luxembourg.

A few days before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the film crew received notification that “Luxembourg, Luxembourg” had been selected to participate in the Horizons program at the Venice Film Festival. However, by that time, the movie hadn't been completed.

When the invasion began, some team members left the country, while others joined the front lines.

Despite the reduced crew, amidst sirens, artillery shelling and blackouts, work on the film persisted. Eventually, the production was successfully completed, and the movie was presented at the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

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“Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”

Directed by: Evgeny Afineevsky (2015)

“Winter on Fire” is among the initial films depicting the events of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. It chronicles the 93-day EuroMaidan Revolution during the winter of 2013-2014, which forever changed the course of Ukrainian history.

Peaceful student demonstrations at Independence Square [Maidan Nezalezhnosti] in Kyiv in support of European integration escalated into a violent revolution that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the corrupt regime of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In November 2013, a friend from Kyiv convinced Israeli-American director Evgeny Afineevsky to drop everything and come to Ukraine. Bringing only two cameras, Afineevsky soon realized he needed reinforcements.

“We realized that history was happening here and we started to get more and more filmmakers involved... because the movement was growing so we needed to have more and more eyes on the ground,” Afineevsky said in an interview with Radio Liberty.

Ultimately, 28 camerapersons worked on the film, risking their lives to meticulously document the events of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine.

Afineevsky focused precisely on showcasing the personal stories of people who gathered at Independence Square in Kyiv.

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One of the most poignant was the story of 12-year-old Roma, who left home to join the revolution on Maidan.

Netflix joined the film's production, making it the first Ukrainian movie acquired by the streaming service for distribution rights. In 2016, the film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category.

“Servant of the People”

Directed/Produced by Oleksii Kiryushchenko (2015-2019)

History teacher Vasyl Holoborodko becomes impassioned in front of his colleagues, delivering a fiery tirade against the Ukrainian government.

One of the students records it and uploads the video to YouTube. The video becomes a hit and inspires people to begin fundraising for his presidential campaign.

To his own surprise, he wins.

“Servant of the People” is a Ukrainian TV series created by the Kvartal 95 Studio, starring the current President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in the lead role.

The premiere of the first season took place in November 2015, and the second in October 2017. In November of the same year, Zelensky mentioned in an interview with the Day Ukrainian newspaper that the creators had the desire to make a third season of the series.

The third season aired during the presidential election campaign in March-April 2019.

In May 2019, the lead actor of the series, Volodymyr Zelensky, became the President of Ukraine.

The series has received numerous film awards worldwide. The streaming service Netflix acquired the rights to the Ukrainian series back in 2016.

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“We are very proud to be the creators of a Ukrainian series that will appear on Netflix,” Zelensky said at that time.

“This is a breakthrough for the entire Ukrainian TV industry.”

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the popularity of the series significantly increased. Various foreign companies sought broadcast rights.

In March, Netflix announced that due to high demand, the series would be available for streaming again in the US.

“Pamfir”

Directed by Dmitro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk (2022)

The drama tells the story of the eponymous Pamfir, who returns to his native village after several years of working abroad. Due to his son’s careless actions, he is forced to revert to his criminal past and break the law again.

The film’s events unfold during Malanka, a Ukrainian folk holiday celebrated on January 13th, which often features masquerade plays involving masks and costumes.

The shooting took place in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine. In preparation for the production, the film crew embarked on an expedition across Western Ukraine, collecting a detailed photo and video archive.

They managed to create and restore over 40 unique costumes and 100 ritual masks. All actors underwent meticulous preparation and even ventured into the mountains, living within the original local traditions, to better immerse themselves in their roles.

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The film was a collaborative effort between Ukraine, France, Poland, and Chile. Apart from the Cannes Film Festival, the movie was showcased at over 40 festivals in 25 countries.

“Rhino”

Directed by Oleg Sentsov (2021)

The film’s story unfolds in 1990s Ukraine. The main character, a gangster known as “Rhino,” begins as an aggressive delinquent and quickly rises through the criminal hierarchy.

His bloody path leads him to not where he expected.

Director Oleg Sentsov, a native of Crimea, began working on the film back in 2012. However, the project was halted after the protests of the Euromaidan erupted in November 2013, in which Sentsov became an activist.

During the Crimean crisis in 2014, he was apprehended by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

Sentsov was accused of “planning terrorist attacks” and subsequently transported to Moscow, where he was given an unjust 20-year imprisonment sentence. In 2018, the filmmaker was honored with the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

On September 7, 2019, he was finally released as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Russia and Ukraine. In the same year, work on the film was resumed.

The lead role in “Rhino” was played by Serhiy Filimonov, a volunteer in the Azov Battalion and the leader of the Honor movement. Both the director and the actor are currently serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

“Those Who Stayed”

Directed by Series Directed by: Artyom Litvinenko, Pavlo Ostrikov, Tala Prystaetska, Valentyn Shpakov, Oleksii Yasakov, Katya Tsarik. (2023)

The series is set in Kyiv at the outset of the full-scale invasion. Each episode portrays a separate story inspired by real events.

Among the main characters are a woman with children forced to live in the same house with two men, her current and former partners; a zoo worker who witnessed the start of the war at work; a homeless person assisting the local territorial defense; a boy calming himself by imagining rockets; a German man who came to Kyiv for a girlfriend but became a volunteer; and a Ukrainian pop star broadcasting from her apartment in the capital, becoming an inspiration for millions.

The series consists of six stories written by the six directors who personally experienced the hardships of being in Kyiv during the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion.

It’s a drama that incorporates elements of tragicomedy, skillfully balancing between brighter and darker moments. It illustrates how humor and self-irony have become crucial tools for Ukrainians to preserve their sanity amidst the chaos of war.

Filming commenced immediately after the de-occupation of the Kyiv region in late March 2023, amidst rocket attacks, power outages, and numerous restrictions, including a ban on nighttime shoots.

The series was completed in just 33 days.

“Those Who Stayed” marked the first television project, premiering digitally on Netflix in 18 other European countries alongside Ukraine.

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Comments ( 1)

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Duarte Simões
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

"Airport" is missing. It refers to the defense of Donetsk Airport in 2014/15, and although it is a documentary made by Current Time, from Radio Free Europe, it is without a doubt the most powerful, extraordinary documentary I ever saw about the war in Ukraine. I believe you can see it on You Tube. Spoken in Russian and Ukrainian with impeccable English subtitles.

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