Today, the world’s attention is on Ukraine. Over the past eight years, since the start of the Ukrainian-Russian war, the popularity and recognition of our country has grown rapidly. This is largely due to the cultural front. The whole world is now talking about Ukrainian creators, singers, videographers and directors.
Indeed, the events that began in 2014 and continue to unfold have become a huge boost for Ukrainian culture. Thousands of Ukrainians made a revolution, changing the government and sacking the pro-Russian president in order to stay free and have their own voice. This angered the Russian authorities and led to the immediate annexation of Crimea, with Russian troops entering Ukrainian territory. They ruthlessly killed civilians and carried out propaganda activities in the east of the country, as they are doing now
Until 2014, the culture of Ukraine was in obscurity. For many years, the state did not invest any funds in the development of cinema and other creative industries. Directors from the Russian Federation came to Ukraine to shoot their films there, which were then shown throughout the country. Our film market was their market.
Talented Ukrainian directors, actors, costume designers, make-up artists and many others had no prospects. The road to the world of cinema was closed to them. Cultural activity is a litmus test that reflects what is happening around us and, in many ways, also reflects the political sphere. Culture is freedom of expression, and that is something an authoritarian government will never tolerate. We were powerless and could not resist the propaganda in the cultural sector.
After Maidan, Ukrainian cinema began to flourish. The economy improved, public funding for films appeared, voluntary initiatives emerged, and we began to rebuild Ukrainian cinema from scratch. Cinema is a practical thing: if you don’t, the quality will not increase. From 2015 to today, we have rapidly improved the quality of our films and received tremendous support from the public.
Now everything Ukrainian has become sacred. All entertainment content produced by the aggressor country has been superseded – not because it has been blocked in any way by our government. We are a people who love freedom, so it is difficult for us to ban something. The perspective of Ukrainians themselves has changed; large-scale ukrainization took place. As a result, local movie studios started producing good movies in various genres. Ukrainian films have become much more prominent and visible on the world stage; we can be found among attendees of festivals like the Berlinale, Sundance, Venice Film Festival and Cannes.
With Myroslav Hai, co-founder of our production company MIR&CO, we spent six years working on the film Brothers in arms, documenting everything that happened in the Donbass region. These short stories from the Russian-Ukrainian war were collected during our movement along the front line with humanitarian supplies.
Our production not only shoots fiction films and documentaries, but also has a fund of the same name to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This film reveals the life of Ukrainian soldiers “from scratch”, conversations with the inhabitants of the “grey zone”, military clashes, jokes, funerals, road adventures and bombings – all this adds up to a single journey to another world, the world of war.
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Brothers in arms has some functions. Initially, we wanted to share with the world what was going on by showing the tyranny and authoritarianism that lurked behind the false face of “democracy” in Russia, a country that openly attacked its neighboring state for purely ambitious reasons. We had to reveal the truth, show our soldiers that they had been boldly opposing this terrorism for more than a year, and also open the eyes of many Ukrainians and Westerners, who suffered from the occupier’s propaganda and lived under the regime the illusion that none of this was happening.
After local screenings of the film, we decided to release it to the general public so that as many people as possible could see the truth. Indeed, today we are waging not only a physical war with tanks and missiles, but an informational and cultural war.
On February 24, 2022, this largely ignored boiling erupted and, overnight, the entire country became a war zone the likes of which Europe had not seen since World War II. Our production does not stand aside. Co-founder Myroslav Hai is the assistant commander-in-chief on the front lines. The MIR&CO Foundation is engaged in humanitarian activity, providing medicine, clothing and food to civilians, and our production continues to document everything that happens.
Sergei Lyssenko, director of Brothers in arms, is now in the kyiv region, documenting everything that happens and sending the images directly to Sweden in order to preserve this moment in history. The Ukrainian film community is waging an information war and declaring a boycott of Russian cultural propaganda. Everyone does what they can.
We can only believe that one day we will release a documentary about the war against the greatest tyrant of the 21st century, and then we will go back to normal life. However, it is impossible to talk about our future, because we do not know if Ukraine will exist tomorrow. Now every picture can be the last.
Kyrylo Nechmonia is co-owner of Ukrainian production company MIR&CO