Ukrainian Film Thrives Amid War With Russia

An interview with Ukrainian director Damian Kolodiy about Russia’s main weapon in the war against Ukraine: the media.

Film poster for Andriy Kyryllov’s “Be Back.”

The ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine has given Ukrainian filmmakers a tragic field from which they are harvesting a trove of documentary and creative films. The three years since the conflict began have seen a wave of films about the struggle of war, both on the frontlines and for families at home.

“There are a lot of stories to tell now that are quite dramatic that didn’t really exist 10 years ago, life and death and war related,” said Damian Kolodiy, Ukrainian filmmaker.

From April 27-30, the Ukrainian Museum in the East Village presented the third annual Ukrainian Museum Film Festival.

“Film provides a way for people to digest and reflect, or escape the climate of conflict in Ukraine, and plays an important role in the social fabric of a country,” said Kolodiy, curator of Friday night’s series of short films.

Russian media still have influence on Ukrainian public opinion, twisting news in their favor or releasing fake news. Film is no exception, as the government of Vladimir Putin attempts to portray the war with Ukraine through its eyes.

An example is Russia’s reaction to “Be Back,” directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Andriy Kyryllov. The film is a five minute, yet infinitely powerful monologue of a girl missing her boyfriend who is fighting in Eastern Ukraine. The film has been used to help soldiers whose families are waiting back home, to assure them that they are missed and loved.

In a Q&A session Friday night after the showing of his film at the Ukrainian Museum, Kyryllov spoke about Russia trying to spin the meaning of his film after it gained traction on social media. Their interpretation was aimed at making the Ukrainian’s war with Russia seem ridiculous, and that the girl wanted the war to end and her boyfriend to come home because Ukraine should not be resisting Russia in the first place.

“There are certainly people who want to respond by making their own content and expose the lies that are coming out of Moscow,” said Kolodiy, speaking about Ukrainian directors creating their own films about war.

Organizer of the Ukrainian Museum Film Festival Hanya Krill said that looking at the history of Ukrainian cinema, Russian interference is nothing new.

“Ukraine had a very active film industry of its own that was cut off by Moscow in the 1930s. So it really kind of stopped and everything that was done from there forward was directed out of Moscow as opposed to being Ukrainian,” said Krill.

When Ukraine gained its freedom from Russia in 1991, their film industry started to regrow. “Filmmakers suddenly realized they were able to do things without direction coming from Moscow,” said Krill.

Now, along with Russia encroaching on Ukraine once again, comes the Russian grip on film and all other Ukrainian media.

“Russia has made their own historical films which have reinterpreted historical events in Russia’s favor. The victor writes the history books, so they’re trying to do that,” said Kolodiy.

“Be Back,” Kyryllov’s first film as a director, was a result of lack of opportunity for Ukrainian actors. Previously an actor, Kyryllov said he stopped his acting career because there was nothing but Russian influenced roles.

“When I was an actor, I can really remember the moment when Russia and Putin started putting out Russian military oriented films,” said Kyryllov. “They started to shoot in Ukraine, and every movie and serious role was 50/50 with Russia, with the money and with the actors.”

“That’s really why I stopped my acting career. There was nothing except these kinds of scripts, with Russian police or military,” said Kyryllov.

“A lot of Ukrainian directors and filmmakers work on Russian movies to make money, then make their own films on the side. So the war has certainly influenced that business model,” said Kolodiy.

“Homefront” directed by Illia Makarenko, another short film featured in the festival, told the depressing story of two sisters left behind by their father who has gone to fight for Ukraine. The theme of a broken home seems to be reoccurring in recent Ukrainian films.

“Families are disrupted and the normal family unit isn’t functioning the way it should be. There’s a lot of domestic issues and soldiers coming back with traumas,” said Kolodiy. “They’re not as well equipped to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and that’s just something that Ukrainians are trying to learn how to deal with.”

The films being produced by Ukrainians are a beautiful byproduct of struggle and loss, that showcase talent and triumph.

“Ukrainians are very talented people. We’ve seen some amazing films coming out of Ukraine,” said Krill.

Ukrainian Film–First Draft

By Anne Ehart

The ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine has given Ukrainian filmmakers a whole new field of content to tackle. Documentary and creative films alike, the last three years since the 2014 uprising have seen a wave of films about the struggle of war, both on the frontlines and for families at home.

The Ukrainian Museum in the East Village presented a film festival of independent Ukrainian films this past weekend.

“Film provides a way for people to digest and reflect, or escape the climate of conflict in Ukraine, and plays an important role in the social fabric of a country,” said curator of Friday night’s series of short films Damian Kolodiy.

“Be Back,” directed by Andriy Kyryllov, is a five minute, yet infinitely powerful monologue of a girl missing her boyfriend who is fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

There is a wealth of significance behind the short film, Kyryllov’s first as a director. Previously an actor, Kyryllov said he stopped his acting career because there was nothing but Russian influenced roles.

“When I was an actor, I can really remember the moment when Russia and Putin started putting out Russian military oriented films,” said Kyryllov. “They started to shoot in Ukraine, and every movie and serious role was 50/50 with Russia, with the money and with the actors.”

“That’s really why I stopped my acting career. There was nothing except these kinds of scripts, with Russian police or military,” said Kyryllov.

“There are certainly people who want to respond by making their own content and combat the lies that are coming out of Moscow,” said Kolodiy, speaking about Ukrainian directors creating their own films about war.

Russia has had a hold on Ukrainian media, twisting news in their favor or releasing fake news. Film is no exception to what Russia wants to influence, to portray the war with Ukraine through their eyes.

In a Q&A session Friday night after the showing of his film at the UMFF, Kyryllov spoke about Russia trying to spinning the meaning of the film after it gained traction on social media. Their interpretation was that the girl wanted the war to end and her boyfriend to come home because Ukraine should not be resisting Russia in the first place.

Anne Applebaum Speaks About The End of The West at the CUNY Graduate Center

By Anne Ehart

On Monday, April 3, seats at the Elebash Recital Hall at the CUNY Graduate Center were filled to discuss the question: Is This the End of The West?

Speaker for the event, Pulitzer prize winning author Anne Applebaum, focuses her writing on the state of western political affairs, and currently writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for the Washington Post.

Hosted by the European Union Studies Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, Applebaum was brought to present her views on the future of Western politics and how Russia’s influence is leading to its demise.

Last March, in a Post article titled “Is This the End of the West as We Know It?” Applebaum said “we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it.”

In this discussion just over a year later, Applebaum said we have had those two or three bad elections.

Applebaum described president Donald Trump as “totally uninterested in the West as an idea” as all of his presidential predecessors have valued. Presidents democratic and republican have at least had in common something that is inherently American: the upholding of the western political system.

One of Applebaum’s recent articles cites that Trump has said that he “would not care that much” if Ukraine were admitted to NATO and that European conflicts are not worth American lives, and pulling back from Europe would save millions of dollars annually.

Applebaum’s talk outlined four factors that are contributing to the decline of the EU, NATO, and the West as we know it. These were the Information Age, immigration, economics, and globalization.

Applebaum noted that Russia knows how to use the Information Age to its advantage. Leaking information about an opposing candidate at just the right time, or spreading rumors of false information. For example, the rumor about the Syrian refugee raping a child in Idaho.

A far-right candidate taking office and suspicions of Russia meddling with the election is not only happening in the U.S. French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen of the “far-right” National Front is receiving campaign funding from Russia. Applebaum referred to Le Pen’s campaign as “Make France Great Again.”

Applebaum believes that part of what lead to Trump’s election to office is a “desire for some sort of revolutionary energy” after “eight years of a calm and controlled presidency.” Applebaum cited George Orwell’s review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which said that people want struggle in government, they are simply not happy with having all their necessities.

There is a feeling of nostalgia among people who are voting for these far-right candidates, thinking “wouldn’t it be great if…” we could go back to a point in time where government was less involved with other countries.

Despite the severity of the matter and the real possibility of a collapsing West, Applebaum still made the occasional joke with the audience, for example the factually incorrect Shakespeare memes her teenage son sees on the Internet.

Following the 30-minute discussion, audience members were welcomed to ask questions. One audience member asked about how deep Russia’s corruption goes. Once Putin is dead or no longer in power, will Russia’s mission carry on?

Applebaum responded that it is not just Putin, that it is a very important part of the Russian foreign and economic policy and is quite deeply rooted.

Is This The End of The West? Draft

On Monday, April 3, seats at the Elebash Recital Hall at the CUNY graduate center were filled to discuss the question: Is This the End of The West?

Speaker for the event, Pulitzer prize winning author Anne Applebaum, focuses her writing on the state of western political affairs, and currently writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for the Washington Post.

Last March, in a Post article titled “Is This the End of the West as We Know It?” Applebaum said “we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it.”

Just over a year later, Applebaum says we have had those two or three bad elections.

Applebaum’s talk outlined four factors that are contributing to the decline of the EU, NATO, and the West as we know it. These were the Information Age, immigration, economics, and globalization.

Applebaum noted that Russia knows how to use the Information Age to its advantage. Leaking information about an opposing candidate at just the right time, or spreading rumors of false information. For example, the rumor about the Syrian refugee raping a child in Idaho.

A far-right candidate taking office and suspicions of Russia meddling with the election is not only happening in the U.S. French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen of the “far-right” National Front is receiving campaign funding from Russia. Applebaum referred to Le Pen’s campaign as “Make France Great Again.”

Applebaum described president Donald Trump as “totally uninterested in the West as an idea” as all of his presidential predecessors have valued. Presidents democratic and republican have at least had in common something that is inherently American: the upholding of the western political system.

Trump has said that he “would not care that much” if Ukraine were admitted to NATO and that European conflicts are not worth American lives, and pulling back from Europe would save millions of dollars annually.

Applebaum believes that part of what lead to Trump’s election to office is a “desire for some sort of revolutionary energy” after “eight years of a calm and controlled presidency.” Applebaum cited George Orwell’s review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which said that people want struggle in government, they are simply not happy with having all their necessities.

There is a feeling of nostalgia among people who are voting for these far-right candidates, thinking “wouldn’t it be great if…” we could go back to a point in time where government was less involved with other countries.

UN Press Briefing–Measles

500 measles outbreaks were reported in Europe in January 2017 according to the World Health Organization. This is concerning because there has been steady progress towards elimination of the disease and 500 outbreaks in a month is a big setback. This creates a larger problem because with people traveling to Europe and being exposed to the disease, it could spread and be brought back to people’s home countries. Currently, the most major outbreaks are in Romania and Italy. Italy has seen a sharp increase in cases, with 238 reported in January 2017. The WHO regional director of Europe urged all countries to take urgent measures to prevent the spread of measles.

In the press briefing, only three sentences were said about the outbreaks and then the speaker referred everyone to the WHO website for more information. The speaker simply mentioned that the issue was present, without going into detail. If a reporter were to do a story on the issue, they would need to use other sources. The WHO website was helpful, with much more information and statistics.

http://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2017/measles-outbreaks-across-europe-threaten-progress-towards-elimination

http://www.euronews.com/2017/04/03/romania-and-italy-told-to-take-urgent-action-on-measles-outbreak

 

Ukraine Story 1 Final

100 Years Later, Scholars Remember Ukrainian Revolution

By Anne Ehart

Panelists at the Friday, February 24 “Ukrainian Statehood 1917-21: Institutions and Individuals” conference at Columbia University.

100 years ago today, Ukraine was in the midst of a struggle for independence from Russia. From 1917-1921, war was waged between Ukrainian independence and Soviet forces, resulting in the creation of the Ukrainian National Republic.

Today, Ukraine is once again butting heads with Russia, fighting off Russian military and pro-Russia separatist groups attempting to take control of Ukraine.

On February 24 and 25, the Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia University commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the Ukrainian revolution with a series of panel discussions entitled “Ukrainian statehood 1917-21: Institutions and Individuals.”

Ukraine Story 2 Pitches

I have a couple potential stories for the next assignment. Though these are not newsworthy, there is a Ukrainian concert followed by a meet the composer and a Ukrainian poetry reading through the Ukrainian Institute of America. While it would also be interesting to me to get a taste of Ukrainian culture, any coverage of Ukraine right now gives it exposure and generates awareness for it, which is greatly needed. In addition, either of these could make lovely radio or photo pieces. Another more newsworthy idea has to do with the release of movie “Bitter Harvest” in late February. The movie depicts the Holodomor starvation in Ukraine in the 1930s. While there are many reviews out about the movie, I’d like to hear from Ukrainians. Are they glad a movie is shedding light on this devastating part of Ukrainian history? What do they think of the movie itself? Even better, can I find someone who lived through this time to give their input? This would be a written piece. I need to do some reaching out to gauge the quality of the story I would get for the movie piece, whereas the less newsworthy concert and poetry events seem like a no brainer. 

Ukraine Story 1 First Draft

100 Years Later, Scholars Remember Ukrainian Revolution

By Anne Ehart

Panelists at the Friday, February 24 “Ukrainian Statehood 1917-21: Institutions and Individuals” conference at Columbia University.

100 years ago today, Ukraine was in the midst of a struggle for independence from Russia. From 1917-1921, war was waged between Ukrainian independence and Soviet forces, resulting in the creation of the Ukrainian National Republic.

Today, Ukraine is once again butting heads with Russia, fighting off Russian military and pro-Russia separatist groups attempting to take control of Ukraine.

On February 24 and 25, the Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia University commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the Ukrainian revolution with a series of panel discussions entitled “Ukrainian statehood 1917-21: Institutions and Individuals.”

Ukraine Pitch #1

This Friday the 24th, the Ukrainian Institute of America in collaboration with the Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia University will be hosting an International Conference titled “Ukrainian Statehood 1917-21: Institutions and Individuals.” The conference commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the Ukrainian Revolution and the creation of the modern Ukrainian state. Now more than ever, it is a relevant time to recognize Ukraine’s successes and the current status of its freedom. It is inevitable that Trump’s relationship with Russia and whether he will be an ally to Ukraine will be discussed. Following the two-hour panel is a reception in which I hope to speak to the panelists or attendees. I hope to interview people on how they feel the “modern Ukrainian state” has changed over the years and how they picture it in the future. Realistically, do they see Trump and Russia dismanteling the Ukrainian state or do they still see hope for independence? I will also formulate my questions based on the panel discussion. My hope is to create a radio podcast, with clips from the panel itself, sound of crowds chatting, hopefully some in Ukrainian, and one on one interviews.

Ukraine Beat Memo

Official language: Ukrainian (67.5%)

Russian (29.6%)

Religions: Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic.

Ukraine’s population is overwhelmingly Christian; the vast majority – up to two-thirds – identify themselves as Orthodox, but many do not specify a particular branch

Ukrainian News Outlets:

Kyiv Post

Tsnua

Interview:

Roksolana Florko

609-598-1837

Roksolana is a former boss of mine who is Ukrainian-American. I asked her about where the Ukrainian community is located in NYC, if there are any landmarks of Ukrainian culture here, and where she gets her Ukrainian news from.

Currently:

Ukrainian-Americans are concerned about Trump’s friendliness with Russian president Vladimir Putin, which could mean Ukraine could lose the US as its ally. The US has provided a lot of help and understanding in defending Ukraine from Russian separatists taking control. Since Trump has taken office, violence has begun again in eastern Ukraine where separatist groups have control.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 but yesterday (February 14) Trump announced that he fully expects Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine and de-escalate violence in Ukraine. However, at the same time, he stated he expects to get along with Russia.

Avdiivka is a strategically important city under Ukrainian control that was attacked by military grade missiles on January 28. Video surveillance reveals that the attack was carried out in militant controlled Donetsk (Ukraine). Russia tried to blame Ukraine for the attack, but Ukraine clearly does not have access to weapons of this caliber.

Where are Ukrainians?

“When they first moved here, they all lived in the East Village. But now that it has gotten more expensive there, they have moved out to Yonkers, Brooklyn (Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay) or New Jersey. But for holidays and church we still gather in the East Village,” –Roksolana Florko

Landmarks:

Ukrainian Museum (East Village)

St. George Academy (private, Ukrainian Catholic high school)

Soyuziuka–Ukrainian heritage center (upstate)

“I have friends that visit here every summer or send their kids here to learn Ukrainian or about Ukrainian culture,” –Roksolana Florko