As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, a great way to help Ukraine is to stay informed. As suggested by Ukrainian Student Association in their infographic flier, the Netflix documentary, ‘Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’ is an educational film available to anyone interested in learning more. Disclaimer for graphic violence, blood and nudity.
According to IndieWire, the documentary follows the Ukrainian uprising in Kiev’s Maidan Square that took place between November 2013 and February 2014. Over the course of 93 days, tens of thousands of activists occupied the area to protest pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
The documentary begins with a brief history of Ukraine leading up to the revolution. Despite being independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, a rigged election resulted in the appointment of pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, to the Ukrainian presidency. Ukrainian citizens peacefully protested in the Orange Revolution, overturning the election results. In 2010, however, Yanukovych returned to Ukraine and legally won the presidency. During the European Union agreements of 2013, Yanukovych secretly negotiated with Russia and did not sign said agreements despite strong public support in favor of them.
The documentary begins at day one of the revolution and continues through its conclusion on day 93. Between 300 to 400 Ukrainian citizens came out to Maidan Square to protest Yanukovych’s decision on the first day. As day turned into night, thousands of citizens arrived to occupy the entire square. Despite remaining peaceful, Ukrainian special forces, or Berkut, began attacking protestors.
Protesters turned to St. Michael’s monastery in Kyiv when violence escalated. During day 10 on Nov. 20, 2013, protestors locked themselves in the monastery, gathering food and medical supplies, as the violence at the hands of the Berkut grew more intense.
As the documentary progresses, the violence continues to grow more graphic and extreme. I had to take multiple breaks while watching to process what was happening. The photographers captured numerous videos of the Berkut assaulting peaceful protesters with no provocation. Throughout the entire revolution, the protestors had no automatic weapons while the Berkut used grenades, rifles and eventually machine guns.
The interview clips of first-hand accounts are absolutely heartbreaking, with citizens recalling the intense violence they encountered throughout the 93-day period. Business owners, teachers, students, activists and priests were all interviewed to describe their participation and understanding of the revolution.
These interviews are my favorite part of the documentary. The personal testimonies of what occurred and the violence they had to encounter brought me to tears. It was so powerful to watch what was going through the minds of these protestors, especially when they were being provoked into violence.
Throughout the interviews, every individual emphasizes the purpose of protesting as not only about European integration but freedom for all Ukrainian citizens. Based on these testimonies, a lot of what applied during this revolution is still completely applicable to what is currently happening in Ukraine.
A tremendous sense of community can be seen when attacks from the Berkut came at the thousands of protesters in Maidan. On Dec. 11, 2013, the bells of St. Michael’s Monastery rang for the first time since 1240, urging over 15,000 Ukrainian citizens to come to Maidan to support protestors from being overtaken.
The closer the documentary gets to the end of the 93 days, the more intense and disturbing the fighting becomes. Eventually, on day 93, the demands of the protestors were finally met. One of the most important being early elections to elect a new leader.
I particularly enjoyed the scenes after the protesters’ demands were met. The reactions from the crowds along with the additional personal interviews was a positive way to end the documentary.
I encourage everyone to watch the documentary to help process and understand the depth of what is currently happening in Ukraine. This piece of history provides a great deal of information about Ukrainian history and understanding why Ukraine continues to seek separation from Russia.
Rating: 5/5 stars