It has been a full year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and in the face of desperate hardship, we stand with the people of Ukraine.
On Thursday 2 March, we will mark a year to the day since Russian forces entered the city of Kherson, with a screening of Albina Kovalyova’s Occupied, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London. Filmed in secret by Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Bahnenko, the film is a first-hand account of the harsh reality of life under Russian control, as Dmytro and his young famliy live through the occupation. Following the screening, the filmmakers will be in conversation with the BBC’s Diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams.
For a list of ways to support Ukraine and Ukrainians please visit the website of Ukrainian Institute London.
The following list of Ukrainian documentaries are all available to watch online. These films cover the history (both modern and less recent) of the country, but also focus on its culture and community, including some beautiful portraits of Ukrainian people.
The Earth is Blue as and Orange / Iryna Tsilyk / 2020
Single mother Anna and her four children live in the frontline war zone of Donbas, Ukraine. As eldest daughter Mira dreams of becoming a cinematographer, the whole family gets involved in creating a film of their lives under siege. Scripts are written, scenes acted out, structure fretted over, and soldiers on the street roped in as extras.
The activity is creative and cathartic, for a family trying to survive through a conflict that is never far from their door. As the layers of reality and filmmaking begin to converge, we see that for Anna and the children, transforming trauma into a work of art is the ultimate way to stay human.
One Day in Ukraine / Volodymyr Tykhyy / 2022
A young woman is laying out food scraps for abandoned animals in the local park when the air raid siren starts up again. Down in the metro station, kids while away the hours watching cartoons, as a pet cat looks on. Snow falls gently on a group of men operating a reconnaissance drone on the outskirts of the city.
It’s March 14, 2022, the 2,944th day of the Russian-Ukrainian War. A collective of Ukrainian filmmakers document life in Kyiv, for ordinary civilians, citizens turned activists and groups of territorial defense soldiers.
This is a quietly incisive portrait of a city – no international correspondents, not frontline action, no bodies, but a patchwork of life in a city of people adapting, enduring, bracing themselves.
Close Relations / Vitaly Mansky / 2016
Mansky, a Russian citizen born and raised in Ukraine, visits family in Lviv, Odesa, the Crimean peninsula, and the separatist Donbas region. He allows his relatives to speak freely about a national crisis that becomes only more dramatic and divisive with ex-president Viktor Yanukovych’s flight to Russia. What emerges is a fractured family album, the assessment of a national identity crisis, and the chronicle of a year in the life of a country in tumultuous transition.
Creating in Conflict / Matthew Barton / 2022
In this 6 minute short film, three students studying at Lviv National Academy of Arts in November 2022, describe what its like to study and create art amid air-raid sirens and power outages.
Roses. Film – Cabaret / Irena Stetsenko / 2021
A tragicomic musical documentary exploring the heights of the cabaret genre in the modern world, following the seven female artists of the cabaret Dakh Daughters.
Living through a pivotal moment in the history of their country, the Maidan Revolution of 2014, art becomes a way for the Dakh Daughters to reflect upon those events and face harsh realities with wisdom and hope. This political cabaret draws its magic from combining the joie de vivre and the horror of the devastating war — even if we don’t see it, its shadow is always there, darkened by the bright stage lights.
Maidan / Sergei Loznitsa / 2014
Acclaimed director Sergei Loznitsa crafts a vital and urgent film about Ukraine’s 2013 anti-government protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square, now known as the beginning of the Euromaidan. Filmed over a period of ninety days, Loznitsa shoots from fixed camera positions capturing a carnival of singing, speeches, music, and food.
The people of Maidan appear to be full of promise and hope. But these scenes are stained with tension as we await the inevitable climax, as peaceful protest descends into violent street battle, Loznitsa frames it in the same beautiful, objective manner.
School Number 3 / Georg Genoux, Yelizaveta Smith / 2016
In the familiar surroundings of their everyday lives, they talk about things that matter to them, about experiences that move them, about first love and loss, hopes and fears. 13 adolescents from a school in Donbass which was destroyed during the war in Ukraine, and subsequently rebuilt, share themselves in front of the camera.
13 lives inhabiting an intermediary space, both emotionally and socially. The war is only mentioned peripherally, and yet it forms the gravitational centre of this puristic and insistent narrative. Though a ceasefire may prevail in the small city, it hardly registers as peace. The documentary film is an extension of the theatre project ‘My Mykolaivka’, which dedicated itself to the search for truth through aesthetic means.
Slovo House / Taras Tomenko / 2017
Designed in the late 1920s in Ukraine’s then-capital city of Kharkiv, Slovo House was built with the personal approval of Stalin as a communist haven for lauded Ukrainian writers. But as the Ukrainian art revival soured, and state control tightened, the writers faced a harrowing fate. Taras Tomenko’s gripping film conjures up the vibrant community of Slovo House in its heyday and traces how this supposed paradise turned into a living hell
Home Games / Alisa Kovalenko / 2018
In Kiev, twenty year old Alina dreams of making the national women’s football team. She’s got a good shot – a standout since the age of seven, she’s now a premier league player. But there are more than a few obstacles standing in her way – not least the fact that her ex-con mother has left her in charge of her young brother and sister. Her alcoholic father is no help, despite his presence in her crowded flat.
But she is buoyed by the women in her life – her careworn grandmother and best friend Nadya – and the fierce love she feels for her siblings. In this moving portrait, director Alisa Kovalenko compassionately observes Alina’s struggle to make ends meet and determination to convince her unsympathetic coaches she can make it to the top of the beautiful game.