August 19, 2022

With the Ukrainian conflict (and surely it’s aftermath) all over the news, there has been an outpouring of support for the Eastern European country from all over the globe. The country of Ukraine has never been more in the public eye than it is now. With conflict comes awareness, and that includes different parts of Ukrainian culture that have been unobserved by most Westerners.

One of those previously unnoticed categories is the Ukrainian entertainment industry. Sure, there have been some popular American-made films that are set in Ukraine, such as Elijah Wood’s Everything is Illuminated and Jason Statham’s Transporter 3. But Ukraine has their own piece of the movie-industry cake, albeit a thin slice.

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So, with Ukraine on the tip of everyone’s tongues, this may be the perfect time to check out some of the best cinema to come out of Ukraine.

Homeward (2019)


Homeward

Homeward‘s dramatic tone kicks off immediately with Mustafah (Akhtem Seitablaev), along with his son Alim (Remzi Bilyalov), at a morgue, collecting the body of his oldest son, who has been killed in war. From there, in order to properly bury Nazim, they must travel with his body to the family’s homeland of Crimea, in order to provide him with a traditional Islamic burial. During this journey, Mustafa comes to realize that there is a wide gap of connection between himself and his younger son, Alim.

The film has multiple layers of emotional conflict between father and son, which makes their reconciliation all the more satisfying. Through the tragedy of a family member, these two bond in a way that can only come from a unique situation like this. But Homeward has more to it than just a father and son coming together. The tragedy also allows Mustafa and Alim to discover parts of themselves they never knew existed. Homeward has been praised by audiences and critics alike. Definitely worth a watch, as long as you have a box of tissues nearby.

Battle for Sevastopol (2015)


Battle for Sevastopol

With a country like Ukraine that has faced as many military conflicts as they have over the years, we’re bound to get plenty of films that revolve around the struggles of war. Well, Battle for Sevastopol, directed by Sergey Mokritskiy, is a 2015 film that follows Lyudmila (Yuliya Peresild), who’s dealing with the sudden life-changing events of World War II in Ukraine.

Set in 1941, this seemingly harmless young student discovers skills with a sniper rifle that she never knew she had. This new skill brings major attention to her from the Red Army, knowing she will be a deadly asset when combating German invasion. Flash forward to the Eastern front of the war, where Lyudmila meets Makarov (Oleg Vasilkov), a fellow sniper, whom she unexpectedly falls in love with. However, after experiencing tragedy, as most do during battle, Lyudmila finds herself now paired with a new partner, and a new romance. The film is an interesting seesaw between the tragedies of war and discovering love/relationships in the most intense of situations. You’ll find it very interesting to watch Lyudmila’s journey from deadly sniper during the war, to suddenly being in the American public’s eye in the aftermath.


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The Tribe (2014)


the-tribe-cannes-2014

If you’re looking for some shock and awe that isn’t battle line-related, then the 2014 film The Tribe, directed and written by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, is a film you may want to check out. The Tribe follows a teenager named Segei (Hryhoriy Fesenko), who has arrived at a new school for the deaf. But before long, Segei, looking to find his way to the top of the social and academic community, joins a gang which is involved in theft, violence and prostitution. After one of the gang’s high-level members gets killed, Sergei takes his place, as well as his duties as a pimp. However, he falls in love with one of his prostitutes, Anya (Yana Novikova), and is suddenly mainly focused on her well-being.

But, things don’t go to plan and Anya is eventually impregnated by Sergei. Trying to make the situation right, Sergei falls into one poor and dangerous decision after another, leading to a tailspin of violence and crime. With teenagers not only flirting with each other, but with death itself, The Tribe is not for the faint of heart.

The Stolen Princess (2018)


the stolen princess

Compared to all the other choices on this list, 2018’s The Stolen Princess is a refreshing animated movie that manages to sidestep the topic of war.

This film, directed by Oleh Malamuzh, is based on a 1820 poem by Alexander Pushkin. The story follows Ruslan (Aleksey Zavgorodniy), who dreams about being more than just a simple artist. One fateful day, the king’s daughter, Lyudmyla (Nadezhda Dorofeeva), sneaks out of her castle to have her own fun and adventures. That is, until she is attacked by two bad guys. Ruslan, being at the right place at the right time, saves Lyudmyla before she can be hurt. Suddenly finding himself as the hero he always dreamed to be, he pretends to be a valiant knight, something that Lyudmyla believes to be true.

Well, the power of magic is also prevalent in this story, with Lyudmyla being kidnaped by the very sorcerer Ruslin is portraying in a play he’s performing in. However, the king does not believe this kidnap story and thinks he has done something awful to her. As the main characters journey to magical lands to rescue Lyudmyla and return her to the king, The Stolen Princess is a unique look at a classic tale that’s easy to enjoy with the whole family.

The Rising Hawk (2019)


the rising hawk

Directed by John Wynn and Akhtem Seitablaev, 2019’s The Rising Hawk is based on a historical fiction book, Zakhar Berkut, which was written by Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko. Tommy Flanagan and Robert Patrick, both Sons of Anarchy alum, star in this 13th Century war/love story that tells the tale of beating back the invasion of a dangerous general to save a vulnerable village.

Zakhar (Robert Patrick) and his village are threatened by a ruthless and powerful Mongolian leader who’s looking to conquer new lands. Desperate for assistance, Zakhar sends his sons to ask Tugar (Tommy Flanagan), a rich lord with direct ties to the king, for help. It takes his own daughters being attacked by the dangerous Mongolian general to finally convince Tugar to offer his military services, in order to fight back the invading army. However, when Tugar discovers Zakhar‘s son is in a romantic relationship with one of his daughters, an ultimatum is laid out. Now, the children of these leaders must decide what’s more important: their love or the village. Expect some intense clashes and desperate moments during this well-produced film.


Bitter Harvest (2017)


bitter harvest

Bitter Harvest, directed by George Mendeluk, and featuring Terence Stamp, is set in between World War I and World War II. The movie focuses on the great 1932 famine (called the Holodomor), in which millions of Ukrainians died from Soviet-inflicted starvation.

Back then, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin sent his army to Ukraine to harvest 90% of the country’s food crops. The story revolves around Yuri (Max Irons), and his wife Natalka (Samantha Barks), who play farmers falling victim to Stalin‘s enforced harvest. Truly an artist at heart, Yuri finds himself replaced by Soviet instructors looking to change the cultural landscape of the country. After being involved in a bar fight, Yuri is imprisoned by the Soviets. There, he witnesses many atrocities done to his fellow countrymen prisoners. However, Yuri is strong-willed and manages to escape to head back to his hometown.

From there, the movie gets even more difficult to watch as the portrayal of torture and starvation becomes the main focus of the film, and survival and strength is its only shield. Despite the difficult subject matter, Bitter Harvest provides excellent performances to go with this shockingly-true tale of Ukrainian suffering.

East/West (1999)


east-west-1999

One of the top critically acclaimed pieces of cinema coming out of Ukraine in the 90s, East/West, directed by Regis Wargnier, takes place in 1946, shortly after World War II. At that time, Joseph Stalin requested that all Russian refugees who fled during the war come back home to help rebuild the USSR, which had been devastated by battles. Aleksei (Oleg Menshikov), is one of these Russians who decides to travel back to Russia to help rebuild, along with his wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), and their son.

However, the film takes a shockingly dramatic turn when it’s clear that Stalin‘s promises were all lies, and it was actually a ploy to lure back national deserters, in order to force them to work or throw them in prison. Aleksei finds this horrible truth out as soon as he arrives, as his family is torn apart and each of them are taken to different locations for work assignments. East/West continues with the aftermath of this life-changing moment as the family tries to navigate on their own through Stalin’s desperate plan.


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