Ukraine’s film-makers can’t pick up guns, but their cameras are vital weapons

Ukraine’s Maidan revolution of 2014, or as we call it, “the revolution of dignity”, coincided with the 11th year of a documentary film festival which takes place annually in Kyiv.

The 2014 edition of Docudays UA started just as the revolution ended, so the main visual used throughout our programming was a burning heart. Our audience of thousands had just come through a heartbreaking chapter, recently burying 100 of our fellow citizens killed on Maidan square, fighting for our country’s freedom. Our main festival venue, the Kyiv cinema house, was packed out, with an atmosphere I’ll never forget.

Today, not only are our land and people threatened, but our culture too. Kyiv’s museums are currently evacuating their collections into basements or, if they’re lucky, out of the country. In this struggle to safeguard our culture, documentaries have a unique role: films are less destructible and can more easily be distributed for the world’s online audiences to see. Ukraine has a rich history of documentary film-making with archives that record the lives of our people over many decades. Moreover, Ukrainian documentaries will be a striking testament in the future to the events unfolding now.

While many have taken up arms to defend our country, the network of documentary film-makers I work with have used the next best weapon they have to hand: their cameras. And like our citizen armies they are risking their lives to go out and film. This war has started in a fog of fake news, propaganda and deadly lies, so film-makers are doing whatever they can to counter this by recording the reality of what is going on around them and attempting to get it out to international audiences.

The truth lies in front of them and they are eager to document, record and preserve for the world to see – now and in the future – what has happened here. President Biden has already claimed that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, and in documenting the crimes we see around us, we can only bolster that claim.


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