In nomen omen. The destiny of the Ukraine lies in its name u krajna “borderland”.
The frontier between the two Europes, the liquid space between the East and the West, disputed, conquered, shoved to and fro by neighbouring powers : the Russians, Poles, Austro-Hungarians. A melting pot rich in multi-ethnic stratifications – the Greeks, Cimmerians, Sarmatians, Magyars, Khazars, Jews, Bulgarians, Tatars, Moldovans, Slavs, Mongols, Lithuanians, Polish, Cossacks.
A co-existence, always very difficult, with the Dnieper River forming a natural limes between the western lands, heirs of eastern Galicia, previously Polish, then Hapsburg and then again Polish, mainly inhabited by Ukrainians and Polish of the Greek-Catholic faith, and the lands on the eastern bank, Russian speakers and Orthodox.
It is difficult to read the future of the Ukraine without understanding its past. Just as for the present, it’s war. In the Donbass, the north-eastern region of the country, there has been a war waging for over three years where no side has the intention to stop and which the rest of the world has tucked away in a corner.
Peter Entell, a director of Ukranian origins, bravely follows this war through his documentary LIKE DEW IN THE SUN, presented at the Trieste Film Festival retracing his family’s story and the reasons for this conflict. The two journeys are intertwined, the personal one of Peter in the archives of his country and the other in the two souls of the Ukraine. From one road block to another, Peter, as a true documentary maker takes us from the government-held Ukraine to the remaining faithful Russian separatist zones. We see his skills in imparting information and adhering to reality, without pointing the finger at anyone.
It all began in 2014 with the overturning of Viktor Yanukovych, the oligarchical president and friend of Putin, who had returned to power in 2010, to rule the Ukraine after the failure of the Orange Revolution.
The revolts of Maidan Square, triggered by the anti-European about-turn of Yanukovych, his dismissal, the establishment in Kiev of the openly declared pro-Western government of Porošenko, the angry reaction of Putin, the Russian occupation and annexing of the Crimea, the sanctions of a recalcitrant West, the secessionist rebellion of the pro-Russians (supported by Moscow) in the north-eastern regions of Donec’k and Luhans’k, where the Ukraine’s mining resources are concentrated. The crown jewel of the mythology of true Soviet socialism.
“The past is never dead. It is not even past.” (William Faulkner)
It is not a coincidence that LIKE DEW IN THE SUN begins with these prophetic and ominous words. In the Ukraine, the past is the present, and the future when it becomes the present, it follows the past. Relentlessly, from generation to generation.
The testimonies gathered by Peter Entell recount the turbulent history of the populations that, over the centuries, have lived and populated this foresaken land.
Sloviansk, a district of Donetsk, in the Novaja Rossja, the self-proclaimed Federal Republic set up in 2014 by the unification of the Federal Republics of Donec’k and Luhans’k with a constitution (ispired by Russian values), army and national hymn.
“You must understand – a military separatist, ex-officer of the Soviet armed forces – that this is our country. Kiev is trying to impose on us the demands of the West, of the United States. They kill and rape our women in Kiev, in Odessa. They cut peoples’ throats, they douse them in petrol. […] Document these corpses, show them to the entire world.”
The images are extremely gory. Disfigured bodies, pulled out from under the rubble of residential buildings hit by Ukrainian grenades. The Ukranian army took control again of the town of Sloviansk. Ten miles away the pro-Russian separatists control the town of Kramatorsk. Riddled with holes, destroyed, streets full of lifeless bodies. Entell alternates the bloody images, the violence and barbarism with the enormous expanses of sunflower fields, the symbol of the Ukraine.
The town of Kalerka, a district of Cherkasy in the centre of the country.
“The Tatars of the Crimea were buried there -a villager explains – then they built a market over the cemetery. The Crimea has never been without war”.
Turkish-speaking Muslims from the Crimea from the time of Genghis Khan, the Tatars were deported (about 200,000) to Central Asia by Stalin in the Forties because they were Muslims. Their re-entry occurred with perestrojka, but, in the meantime, the Crimea had been colonized by the Russians and the Ukrainians, ready to use them in a demographic war. A gathering, a dirt square on a sunny day. Men, women, children dance to the sound of music, sing the national Tatar hymn. They feel a part of the Ukraine and want to continue so.
“Look at our hats, yellow and blue, the colours of the Tatars of Crimea. This, instead, is Ukrainian embroidery. […] There are those who say that the Crimea is Russia because it was once part of Russia, but before this it had been Tatar and even before that Greek…”
Two years after, a mile away, the return of the Crimea to Russia is celebrated after half century. From 1954, to be precise, when as a blow to the ethnic composition of the peninsula, mainly populated by the Russians from the time of Catherine II who seized it from the Ottomans 1783, transforming it into a Russian advanced outpost on the Mediterranean, Krushchev gave it to the Ukraine, more to relieve Moscow of a burden (the difficult management of the water and energy infrastructures) than a sign of the good relations between the central Soviet power and his home country (Krushchev had grown up in Doneck).
“We cannot be held hostage to those powers that still fear the Tatars. We want to live in a country where the Tatars are respected.” (A Tatar protester supporting the Russian annexation of the Crimea).
Peter arrives in Mokra Kalyhirka, 110 miles south of Kiev, the villages of his family, Ukrainian but of Jewish religion, having fled from the 1914 pogroms, when about half a million Jews were deported to the central areas of Russia as they were suspected of colluding with the Germans. The same Germans, who in 1941 in Baby Yar, two miles from Kiev would exterminate, with the help of the Ukraine nationalist militia, more than 100,000 Jews and Rom, in one of the biggest massacres in the history of the Shoah.
In the last months, ruthless conflicts have begun again in Donbass, especially in the Avdiivka area, a small town north of Donetsk, where according to the OECD observer reports, both sides have been using heavy artillery (GRAD rocket launchers), prohibited under Minsk II, the last agreement (February 2015) signed with the mediation of the Western leaders and predictably disregarded, both militarily (a ceasefire) and politically (a federalist reform of the Ukraine constitution, the renouncing of independence by the republican rebels).
No one has a plan to end the conflict. Government forces and separatists alike hope to capitalize on an escalation in violence. It cannot be excluded that the beginning again of wide-scale fighting has something to do with the new tenant in the White House. It is probable that both Putin and Porošenko want to flush out the Donald. The former to test his actual willingness in thawing relations with Moscow, the latter to weigh up the resistance of an alliance (somewhat in danger) with the United States which the Ukraine from its independence in 1991, has always been able to count on.
Meanwhile, the Ukraine has become bankrupt, kept alive only by the oxygen of international bodies, alias the International Monetary Fund, in tribute to the unfortunate prophecy of its Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, according to whom “[…] without the support of the Kremlin the Ukrainians would disappear into nothing.”
For now, they are disappearing under the blows of another war, inherited from the past.
A truck unloads bodies of soldiers. Ukrainian military sing the national hymn.
“Our enemies will perish like dew in the sun.”