Ukrainian filmmakers and executives more used to attending festivals and film markets are now carrying weapons - and joining the battle to protect their country against the invading Russian army. Other producers are hiding with their families in makeshift bunkers as the Russian military draw nearer.
Speaking to Screen today (February 25), producer Volodymyr Yatsenko, chairperson of the Film Industry Association of Ukraine (FIAU) who until recently attended Eurimages meetings on behalf of his country, said he will be returning to Kyiv tomorrow to fight. He had left the city with his pregnant wife and children in order to secure their safety. Now he is heading back.
“We all know that Russia is not hiding it anymore,” he said. “They would like to get their lands back. I know that a lot of Europeans don’t understand it but they will definitely not stop in Ukraine. Let’s imagine that Ukraine will fall. The next will be Poland and the Baltic countries.
“What we really need from Europe is help with lethal weapons,” he continued. ”We can’t protect ourselves. From our perspective, it looks as if all of Europe stays uninvolved, just looking at how they [the Russians] kill us. They say. ‘Our deepest condolences,’ but it is just bullshit. If you really would like to help us, give us something to protect ourselves [with].”
Forty-four year old Yatsenko has no military training but said he had no choice but to take up arms. “Now people just give Kalashnikovs on the street to anyone who would like to protect [the country].”
The producer calculated around 25% of the FIAU members are also joining the fight against the Russians. He revealed teams of documentary makers are trying to shoot shorts chronicling what is happening on the streets during the invasion.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who spent five years in a Russian jail after the 2014 annexation of the Crimea, was said by Yatsenko to ”have joined the fight as well.”
Fellow filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, speaking from Vilnius in Lithuania, told Screen the Ukrainian authorities are giving out weapons to anyone “willing to participate in this territorial defence.”
“Anyone who is willing, they can be armed; they can receive ammunition. They’ve already given out millions of guns.”
Speaking from Turkey, Ukrainian producer and member of the European Producers Club Olena Yershova from Tato Film has called on the European film industry for “practical support.”
She and others are asking for financial and humanitarian assistance, weapons, and equipment for Ukraine.
Although the Union of Cinematographers and Professional Cinematographic Organisations and Associations of Russia (known as KinoSoyuz) has called for an immediate end to the invasion, other Russian filmmakers and agencies have been keeping very quiet today.
According to one Russian source, they have been “muzzled.” The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) has reportedly sent out a letter saying that only “official information” from “official Russian sources can be considered correct and accurate.”
The letter asks members of the arts and media world not to participate in debate about the invasion of Ukraine. It is suggested that anyone who does not abide by the letter’s recommendations “may be accused of treason against Russia.”
However, Yatsenko said he had been contacted by Russian cinematographer and director Roman Vasyanov (whose credits include Suicide Squad and Fury) with an offer of help, even as other Russian filmmakers have stayed silent.
In the UK, a UK film, TV and gaming delegation who had been planning to head to Russia, has now been postponed. It was being spearheaded by producer David P Kelly with Neil Peplow, director of industry and international affairs at the British Film Institute (BFI).
“We were hoping to meet up in Cannes [with Russian film promotion agency Roskino) and really try to tie it down to get a UK trade mission out there [to Russia] either at the end of 2022 or in early 2023, but due to the current situation, that has all been put on hold,” Kelly confirmed. “The UK is still very much wanting to work with the Russian film and TV industry but we just can’t [during the Ukraine crisis].
This article originally appeared on sister site ScreenDaily.