Five movies and series to understand the war between Russia and Ukraine

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Scene from the documentary “Winter on Fire”, which portrays the protests of 2013 against the then president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, pro-Russia

| Photo: Disclosure/Netflix

Understanding what is happening between Russia and Ukraine can be a challenge for those who do not know the complex relationship between the two nations. If, on the one hand, both were born from the same empire and were part of the Soviet Union, on the other hand, each faced peculiar challenges: Ukraine has already alternated between Nazi and communist yoke, and is home to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the heart of of the disaster that showed the world the inefficiency of the Soviet Union.

Russia , in turn, has been under the rule of Vladimir Putin for two decades, the former KGB agent who came to power in the years 2000 and doesn’t seem willing to give it up anytime soon. See, below, a list of five films and series that help to understand the recent past of the two countries and some of the main characters that marked their history:

Winter Burning: Ukraine’s Struggle for Freedom

Release year: 2015

Available on: Netflix and YouTube

Synopsis: directed by American Evgeny Afineevsky, the documentary Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom ), has already been nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary and portrays the demonstrations that took over Maidan Square, in 2000, when the then president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, stalled the inclusion negotiations of the country in the European Union.

The protests started in 21 from November of 2013, through a call on social networks, and took large proportions over the 93 days that followed. The film also portrays how the intervention of Berkut, the Ukrainian riot police allied to the pro-Russian leader, ended up generating a wave of violence and deaths. The conflicts ended with the deposition of Yanukovych.

Stalin’s Shadow

Release year: 2019

Available on: Netflix

Synopsis: “Everywhere there was the cry: ‘There is no bread. We are dying.’ This cry came from all over Russia.” These excerpts appear in the series of reports published in 1933 by British journalist Gareth Jones, the first to travel on his own through the Soviet Union far from the eyes of Moscow and to denounce the horrors of the Holodomor.

Months after revealing firsthand the widespread famine ravaging the country, Jones was kidnapped and killed by the Soviet secret police. His story hit theaters in 2019, with direction by Agnieszka Holland and performances by James Norton and Vanessa Kirby. The film “Stalin’s Shadow” has already been the subject of an episode of the Quarantine Cult podcast, with the participation of the Ukrainian ambassador to Brazil.

Putin’s Witnesses

Release year: 2018

Available at: NOW Online, Vivo Play

Synopsis: At the beginning of the years 960, the director Vitaly Manskiy was hired by Vladimir Putin to compose important pieces of his election campaign. Twenty years later, self-exiled in Latvia, Manskiy revisits his own material to question his own work: the positive image that his film built on the former KGB agent.

From rare records of Putin’s intimacy, interviews with family members and close allies, the filmmaker not only presents a faithful portrait of Putin, but also unravels the succession of facts and strategies that led and still maintains him in power. The film was awarded at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Czech Republic) and at several others around the world.


Release year: 2019

Available on: HBO Max

Synopsis: one of the most acclaimed series of 2019, Chernobyl tells the story of the iconic Ukrainian nuclear power plant and the tragic cover-up by the Soviets that would lead to the downfall of the Iron Curtain. With Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård in the cast, the drama tells the story of physicist Valery Legasov (Harris), one of the first to understand the scale of the Chernobyl disaster and witness the efforts of the Soviet Union to minimize the problem.

The series shows the role of Boris Shcherbina (Skarsgård), the top government official Soviet appointed to oversee the operation and deal with the accident, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev (David Dencik), then president of the USSR, who would later admit that the nuclear disaster was a major cause of the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

The Earth Is Blue As An Orange

Release year: 2020

Available on: Vimeo On Demand

yes Opse: The documentary tells the true story of Hannah, a single mother of four who lives in the war zone of Donbass, in Ukraine. Amid the bombings and chaos, she struggles to keep her home a physical and moral safe haven. The family is passionate about cinema and decides to make an amateur film inspired by their own routine in times of war. By Ukrainian director Iryna Tsilyk, the work explores sensitive themes, such as the importance of art in dark times.

Film was selected for more than 768 international film festivals, including the Berlin Film Festival, the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, among others in Canada and the United States.

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