Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky
Writer: Den Tolmor
Composer: Jasha Klebe

Documentaries like this one force you to ask yourself how something like this can still be happening and how come in a world in which media and internet have reached deafening levels of exposure we still have no real idea of what is happening around us. I did follow the news in late 2013 and the first months of the following year. I also had several conversations with some Ukrainian friends of mine who were worried about what was happening back home and how it would affect their return home over the Christmas holidays that year. That said, I really had no idea about what was actually happening until I saw this documentary. I will be the first to admit that I still have no way to relate to what I witnessed, but after bearing witness to the images presented me by filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky I can at least say that I am a little more aware and my eyes are a little more opened to what can happen in a society that tries to squash its citizens’ voices and impose its values and decisions through violence and authoritarian rule.

There are always at least two sides to every story and in this documentary we are really only exposed to one, but it is quite compelling. Just when it seemed that Ukraine was getting close to brokering a deal with the European Union, an important step that could one day lead to the country’s inclusion in the union, the president and the government went against the population’s wishes and turned their backs to the arrangement. Worse, it seemed as though this decision was also marking a closer rapport with Putin’s Russia, something the people seemed to really not want. Immediately the Ukrainian population reacted, taking over the capital’s main square and peacefully demonstrating, hoping to get their collective voices heard, aided by some leftist politicians and even some national celebrities. Eventually there was a government response, but it was an unexpected one: things turned violent quite quickly. And then things got worse. And worse. And worse. By the end of things, there were hundreds of injuries and deaths that showcased what happens when people try to react to an elected but corrupt government. However, the film also shows what happens when people are not quieted, even when their lives are threatened, and when things matter and an ideology takes strong enough hold, what happens when a population refuses to give up and instead keeps on fighting for a cause they consider just and worth the danger.

There is a lot that is terrifying, but also a lot that is motivational about this film. The important part is to absorb its message and take to heart that, as Patti Smith sang, “People have the Power”. Because they really do, and can bring change without violence, regardless of how the government and police behave.

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