I’ll be reviewing this as the first of five documentaries nominated for this years Oscars.
Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom is one harsh documentary. There’s live footage, quite alot in fact, of the fight between the people in Maidan Square and the armed forces sent by the government. Winter On Fire was filmed so dangerously close to the heart of the conflict, you’d wonder how the director and crew shot this while escaping being shot themselves. The immediacy of the moment captures the full spirit of what happens on the ground; The passing days from the conflicts gestation to its growing support to its bloodied climax couldn’t have been closer to the cold truth. Evgeny Afineevsky gives us some context, albeit a little brief, on how and why the conflict began. But other than telling us that the people were angry they were misled by then president yanukovych about closer ties with EU (instead Yanukovych forged closer bonds with Putin), he didn’t elaborate more on that. Although I would have liked a little more time dedicated to exploring Yanokovych’s motives and reasons, it’s clear that the documentary was about something else entirely. It’s told from the perspective of the everyman in Ukraine, and the struggle and fight for freedom. It might not have been comprehensive in scope but it certainly provided an uncompromising look at the injustices that be.
Winter On Fire never flinches one bit. It goes head-on with the director’s inner rage that encapsulates the feelings of an entire nation. Day 1 saw only a handful of students in the parade square, seemingly voicing out their concerns without the backing of their fellow countrymen. But things spiralled, as each day passed, into a cauldron of citizens who came from all social and religious backgrounds. Indeed the sentiment that you could be Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or a businessman, a waiter, a nurse, a cleaner, a priest, a lawyer or a singer showed the unison within Maidan- Only freedom mattered. This fight for ‘Freedom’ transcended all boundaries. That is exactly what the documentary tries so hard to convey. It cuts the political abstractions of EU and US intervention and Yanukovych’s motives and throws them into the burning fires. If you use force against peaceful protests, thats’s wrong. If you beat up and shoot unarmed citizens, that’s inhumane. If you beat little girls, that’s disgusting. That is more than enough reason to retaliate. Indeed as the film gets to interviewing more citizens and filming their determination in preserving and upholding Maidan as it’s stronghold, the very fabric of an aggrieved nation rightly takes centre stage. It is only through this personal account ripped straight from the people’s pained hearts and voices that we can begin to appreciate the savagery of their situation – And surprising chivalry and altruism that springs from such oppression.
You’ll find some characters more impressionable than others. Journalist Kristina Berdinskikh, a journalist, frequently appears to give her experiences of profiling the narratives of the people to raise awareness on the net. A precocious 12 year-old boy is another more engaging persona. His mature views come out with such authenticity and with such perspective, it’s frightening how growing up amidst the turmoil can make one old really fast. But the most unmistakable character is the conflict itself that threatens to explode into flames at any unforseeable moment. The mercurial and dangerous warfare between the nation’s people and the Berkut (riot police) is a long drawn affair set in the backdrop of the raging fires of winter. The burning fires are ubiquitous. The people use it to fend off the Berkut from their territory. And the Berkut await the extinguish like a signal for them to strike once more. Yes, the fire is the character which leaves the most indelible mark on your mind. As I witnessed both the brutality of the conflict and the admirable fight for freedom, the incendiary inferno was a very real metaphor for the people’s burning resolve in their fight for freedom.
Problems still persist after Yanukovych has left office. The country continues to be rocked by other conflicts. Afineevksy and team have not shed light on the events that ensued after their winter conflict had ended. Ukraine is still struggling and life isn’t a bed of roses. And Afineevsky and the Ukrainians know this. But Akineevsky has just one perspective he wants to shed light on and he’s done a fine job at that. If governments and corrupted officials and conflicts continue to be damned, Akineevsky’s film has at least the power to shout out loud, “The people will not be damned!”
Rating: 9.5/10 A must watch.
Images credited to Netflix