Editor's Note: The selection was provided by Takflix, a Ukrainian streaming platform, and approved by the Kyiv Independent. This isn't sponsored content.
Although Russia’s war against Ukraine has been going non-stop since 2014, many around the world have just learned about Moscow’s aggression due to the growing threat of its escalation.
The war in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas killed more than 13,000 people, while 1.4 million others were internally displaced, leaving Ukraine with tremendous trauma and uncertainty.
Ukrainians have explored and reflected on this experience, both on collective and personal levels, through multiple discussions and various forms of art.
But for much of the rest of the world, this armed conflict is a mystery. And with the Russian propaganda machine working tirelessly to spread false information about it, the nature and origins of the war might be all the more unclear.
Together with Ukrainian film streaming platform Takflix, we have picked out eight films depicting Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine that will help better understand the current tensions. All the listed films are available to watch on Takflix with English subtitles for Hr 85 ($3) each.
'Cyborgs' (drama, director Akhtem Seitablayev, 2017)
In September 2014, Ukrainian military volunteers and soldiers protected the Donetsk Airport for 242 days. For their bravery, they were nicknamed “cyborgs.” The drama of the same name depicts their celebrated stand. The script was based on eyewitness evidence.
Although “Cyborgs” doesn't lack breathtaking action scenes, the film's primary focus is not the war itself. It’s the people who are caught up in it. Five volunteers, all with various backgrounds, are trapped together in the half-ruined airport, prepared to defend it at all costs. As each of them represents different social stratum and profession, their philosophical conversation mixed with black humor make this war drama stand out.
'No Obvious Signs' (documentary, director Alina Gorlova, 2018)
In war stories, what happens after is almost always left out. However, war is only the beginning of a real struggle for veterans, as they are challenged to redefine what “normal life” means for them. The intimate documentary “No Obvious Signs” shines a spotlight not only on veterans’ lives but also women at war.
The film chronicles the story of Oksana, who returns from war and faces another fight. She confronts her PTSD, panic attacks, and memories of war horrors, as she tries to rediscover her identity outside of the battlefield.
'Bad Roads' (drama, director Natalіa Vorozhbit, 2020)
Director and playwright Natalia Vorozhbit, who also wrote the script for “Cyborgs,” traveled around the war zone for four months collecting stories of soldiers and local civilians. It resulted in her directorial debut “Bad Roads,” which premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
“Bad Roads” is a collection of five novels, their only connection to each other being the location — the war-town Donbas region. Every novel has different characters, from residents to soldiers and journalists; they also vary in length and tone – gruesome, disturbing, absurdist, but certainly, none that leave the audience indifferent.
'Train Kyiv-War' (documentary, director Korniy Grytsiuk, 2020)
A train journey from Kyiv to Kostiantynivka, a small industrial city near the war zone, is only 12 hours long. People with different political views, beliefs, and social backgrounds are traveling to and from the war every day. And, of course, some conversations between passengers during that ride tend to get heated.
“Train Kyiv-War” was filmed almost entirely on the train, depicting strangers exchanging thoughts. Almost always, these interactions lead to the discussions of the war, giving an insight into a collective consciousness. And more importantly, regardless how polarizing their opinions might be, all passengers have at least one thing in common — they all want peace.
'War Note' (found footage, director Roman Lyubiy, 2021)
“War Note” is a one-of-a-kind film about the Russian-Ukrainian war, as it gives the chance to see the everyday life of soldiers and volunteers through their own perspective. This film is a kaleidoscope made of personal videos from the phones, cameras, and GoPros of Ukrainian soldiers.
Although the film is created from bits and pieces, it has a logical structure that follows life in the frontline from summer to winter. “War Note” portrays raw emotions and how war changes everything: behavior, relationships, the meaning of life. It is a peculiar world where the recording may end at any moment.
'Blindfold' (drama, sport, director Taras Dron, 2020)
Yulia is a 25-year-old mixed martial arts fighter who lost her fiancé in war. She is trying to deal with the loss, but the people around her constantly remind her of him. When Yulia finds a new relationship, she quits her athletic career to heal and move on. However, her fiance’s mother receives a text, saying that her son is alive and needs money for a surgery. The text turns out to be a test for Yulia on whether she could truly leave her past behind.
The film is set in the future where the war is over. However, its trauma is still present in the lives of veterans, their family members and friends. “Blindfold” shows how people try to come to terms with their feelings and accept the dark reality of the war’s aftermath.
'The Cacophony of the Donbas' (documentary, director Igor Minaiev, 2018)
The first Ukrainian sound documentary that premiered in 1930 was a work of avant-garde filmmaker Dziga Vertov called “Donbas Symphony.” The film celebrated Donbas as the powerful industrial region of the Soviet Union. Almost a century later, the modern documentary “The Cacophony of the Donbas” deconstructs the myth of the region.
By bringing to light the number of tragic deaths of miners in the region, the film paints the new, realistic picture of Donbas, in contrast to that of the Soviet authorities. The story also touches on the correlation between Russia’s current disinformation and Soviet propaganda.
'Unavailable' (drama, director Nіkon Romanchenko, 2018)
"The subscriber you are trying to reach is currently not reachable. Please try again later.” Those emotionless sentences always spark anxiety when trying to reach the loved ones. Lyuba hears those exact words when she is trying to call her son, a soldier fighting in the front line and facing danger every moment. So Lyuba decides to find him.
In the short film “Unavailable,” war is subtle and unseen, having an eerie presence. In 2018, the drama received a special award from the jury of the Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival's national competition for a delicate look and exceptional tone.
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