Films about Ukraine and Russia

The Distant Barking of Dogs

'The Distant Barking of Dogs': a boy and his grandmother deal with civil war in eastern Ukraine in 2014

PBS POV presented an abridged (91 min to 53 min) version of 'The Distant Barking of Dogs', directed and written by Simon Lereng Wilmont, on Monday, 'August 5, 2019. The PBS link is here.

In late 2014, as winter falls into the eastern Ukraine, civil war rages between the Ukraine and Russian separatist forces probably supported by Putin. The area is called Donbass and the village is Hnutove. A ten year old boy, Oleg, living in a rural shack with his grandmother Alexandra, deal with the shellings in the distance. The script says that Oleg often vomits during the shellings.

At school, the teacher says that the kids must learn to live in a war zone where things can hurt them, and that they must learn to protect themselves and their families. This is made to sound almost like the conscription of children into adult ethnic conflicts. This is a Sundance project film, from Final Cut for Real. The presentation was followed by a very brief director interview statement.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom


'Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom' gives more narrative to the protests than did 'Maidan".

'Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, by Evgeny Afneevsky, is a compelling documentary tracing, with all on-location, reality footage, the 'Euromaidan' student demonstrations in Kiev (or Kyiv) from November 2013 through February 2014, especially around Maidan, after the hard line of Viktor F. Yanulovich, and his determination to take the Ukraine out of Europe and back into Russia’s and Putin’s sphere. The protests could be compared with the 'Orange Revolution' a decade before. The documentary has considerable commentary in the way of brief bytes of the activists, so it is easier to follow than the longer take of “Maidan” reviewed here July 20. Again, the brutality of the government troops ('Berkut') is shocking, especially to see downtown in a major European capital. The film stresses that the protestors were largely born and grew up in an independent Ukraine One female makes a point that some people would rather watch than take the personal risk of participation. At one point, a male demonstrator is ridiculed while completely nude. Later, a kid plays the Chopin "Revolutionary Etude" on an outdoor out-of-tune piano, shortly before the joy to come soon. As with the Middle East, the government apparently tried to cut off the Internet and social media for a time. At the end, there are tremendous collective celebrations, as Yanulovich will have to give up power.  The movie makes no bones about the idea that “revolution” can become necessary. Like 'Maidan', the film has many shots of Kiev, stressing the drab, low-rise Soviet architecture broken up by a few monuments or cathedrals.(Kyiv looks more attractive today even as battle begins in 2022.) The official Facebook is here. The film is distributed directly by Netflix. The closing credits of the film summarize Putin’s recent aggression, including seizing Crimea.


'Maidan' looks at the protests in Kiev, Ukraine over the 2013-2014 winter, before Putin's aggression. The film is a 2-hour-plus “documentary” showing, without voice commentary (just some subsection titles), from on the ground, the course of the “Euromaidan” protests in central Kiev, Ukraine from November 2013 to February 2014, when president Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych was driven from power. Protestors had wanted closer ties with Europe, and Yanulovych fled to exile in Russia. There are historical details on Wikipedia hereThe political change may well have helped provoke Vladimir Putin into Russia’s subsequent aggression, largely unchallenged, in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The film gives the viewer the impression of “being there”, standing in the crowd, shouting, which is not something I normally do.  (Am I above “joining in” other people’s solidarity protests?)  It gives an intimate look of drab downtown Kiev, which is valuable because the average viewer has little chance to go there. The scale of the protests is much larger than that of the Occupy movement in the US. Of course, the viewer wonders if a conventional documentary, explaining the politics, would have been more effective. Subtitles are provided for the demonstration and street speech, mostly in Ukraine (resembling Russian).The film may be viewed in Netflix Instant Play, or rented on YouTube for $3.99. I played in NY and LA at the end of 2014. I don't recall seeing it play in DC.