With Ukraine in our hearts and minds, we wanted to highlight the work of native filmmakers and others who have worked to inform audiences about Ukraine’s people and history.
As we watch in horror at the invasion of Ukraine and the devastating impact on the lives of Ukrainians, we’ve collated this selection of docs to watch about Ukraine. 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.
Many of the films in this list are directed by Ukrainian filmmakers whose work we wish to support now more than ever, as well as others who have worked to inform audiences about Ukraine’s people and history.
We are raising money for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The DEC provide essentials, food, water, shelter and healthcare to people fleeing and in the Ukraine. Donate here.
Alternatively, the Ukrainian Institute London lists a variety of ways you can support and groups you can donate to.
Close Relations / Dir. 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.
Maidan / Dir. 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.
Slovo House / Dir. 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 / Dir. 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.
The Russian Woodpecker / Dir. Chad Gracia / 2015
Fedor Alexandrovich is a radioactive man. He was just four years old in 1986, when he was exposed to the toxic effects of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and forced to leave his home. Now 33, he is an artist in Ukraine, with radioactive strontium in his bones and a singular obsession with the catastrophe – why did it actually happen? Was there more to the story than the Soviet government let on? And, most importantly, what did this all have to do with the giant, mysterious steel pyramid now rotting away 2 miles from the disaster site: a hulking Cold War weapon known as the Duga and nicknamed “the Russian Woodpecker” for the strange, constant clicking radio frequencies that it emits?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom / Dir. Evgeny Afineevsky / 2015
Director Evgeny Afineevsky creates a powerful first-person narrative of the 93-day struggle undertaken by Ukrainians in the winter of 2014. Follow along as peaceful protests in favor of Ukrainian unity with Europe are met with violent resistance by a government pledged to retaining Russian political dominance. Afineevsky’s visceral documentary provides a tragic explainer of modern Ukrainian resistance in the face of efforts to restrict its push for autonomy and democracy.
Heat Singers / Dir. Nadia Parfan / 2019
Parfan illustrates the beautiful harmony in the lives of Ivan Vasyliovych and his choir. This is no ordinary choir, however. Vasyliovych is the trade union leader at Ivano-Frankivsk TeploKomunEnergo, a municipal heating company in western Ukraine tasked with providing services to entire communities during the cold of winter. Follow Along as Ivan balances his love for Ukrainian folk choir with his responsibilities as a leader in Western Ukrainian energy.
Check out True Story, a subscription platform with a Ukrainian Documentaries section. All the income for that collection will be shared between the filmmakers and humanitarian organizations in Ukraine.