In case you want to know how the heck these seemingly weak Ukrainians are kicking Russia’s ugly butt, just know that there’s history. Here are some great documentaries and fiction movies that will help you put this horrible war into context.
1. The Legend of Princess Olga (1983)
Director Yuri Ilyenko presented his views on several well-known historical events, including Olga’s revenge on the Drevlians for the murder of her husband, Igor. The story relies on chronicles and legends, but Illyenko makes it clear that the plot about revenge is mostly a myth. Because if you tie burning cloths to a bunch of pigeons, they will probably not fly to their nests, as the chronicle says. But it’s important to remember that hell hath no fury like a Ukrainian woman scorned.
2. Famine-33 (1991)
Famine-33 is the first feature film about the Holodomor of 1932–1933 based on Vasyl Barka’s novel The Yellow Prince, in which a Ukrainian peasant family is trying to survive a famine. The film also speaks of the Soviet Bolsheviks’ rise to power on the territory of Ukraine. The Soviet authorities never admitted to the horrors of genocide, blaming the famine on the drought. However, in reality, millions of Ukrainians died of hunger as the result of collectivization and purposeful measures of the Soviet leadership led by Stalin to weaken the national liberation uprisings and finally establish Soviet power in Ukraine. More than 4 million people died as a result of the Holodomor.
3. War. Ukrainian Account (2002)
This is a 9-episode documentary film by Serhiy Bukovsky about Ukraine in World War II. In this mini-series, the director used a huge number of newsreels of the war and postwar years, as well as eyewitness accounts, often very horrifying and contradictory to the general narrative.
4. Winter on Fire (2015)
This is a documentary about the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine during the winter of 2013-2014 by American director Eugene Afineevsky. The film contains many interviews with protesters, doctors, priests, and artists who were on the Maidan trying to topple the pro-russian government.
5. The “Slovo” House (2017)
This is a documentary about the residents of a house built for writers in the 1920s in Kharkiv. The building was designed by local architect Mykhailo Dashkevych in the shape of the letter “C,” as a symbol of the word “Slovo.” There were 66 apartments, a dining room, a bomb shelter, and also a special system of keeping track of the residents. A few years after it was populated, one of the residents, Mykola Khvyliovyi, ended his life. This was only the beginning of Stalin’s repressions and arrests that led to more suicides. Residents of 40 apartments were arrested, and the house itself was nicknamed the “crematorium.” By the way, the same house was recently shelled by the Russian invaders.
6. Cyborgs (2017)
A full-length feature film about the fighting at the Donetsk airport during the armed conflict in Donbas: a two-week combat duty in September 2014. A group of six Ukrainian soldiers arrives at the war-damaged building of the old terminal of Donetsk airport for the first time. And so that the enemy does not go further — they are ready to defend their land to death.
7. Atlantis (2018)
The film was shot in Mariupol, which is now being mercilessly bombed by Russian army. The drama tells about the future victory in the war with Russia. In 2024, the occupied territories were returned, but Donbas was declared uninhabitable. Those who stayed there are struggling against the environmental and humanitarian crisis. But it’s not all bleak if there’s room for love. “Atlantis” became the first Ukrainian film to win a prize at the Venice Film Festival.
8. No Obvious Signs (2018)
The documentary depicts the story of a major returning from a war zone in Eastern Ukraine. The title is a reference to one of the phrases used by doctors to describe people with mental trauma. Talking to psychologists dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks, she tries to return to her normal life.
9. Homeward (2019)
Homeward is a sentimental story about transporting a dead boy’s body from the war-ridden Donbas to the annexed Crimea, where he can be buried according to all Muslim traditions. If you ever felt out of touch with your relatives, this movie will mess you up.
10. Chornobyl: Chronicle of the Difficult Events (1986)
This is one of the first films made after the Chornobyl accident, which started filming on May 14, 1986, on the very day when President Mikhail Gorbachev gave his speech. You will see how key decisions were made to eliminate the consequences of the accident: the construction of the sarcophagus, injection of liquid nitrogen into a burning reactor, evacuation of the population from the contaminated areas, and other events. At the end of the filming in June of the same year, all members of the film crew were diagnosed with acute radiation symptoms. Some of the people were immediately hospitalized. The director, Volodymyr Shevchenko, died in March of the following year.
Ukraine is scarred but still unbroken. Fight, and you shall triumph.
Glory to Ukraine!