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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom documentary review: Occupy Kiev

Winter on Fire Ukraine's Fight for Freedom green light

This is what a revolution in the 21st century looks like. Spoiler: The power of ridicule when Facebook journalists are watching is vast.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You may recall seeing footage on the news, in late February 2014, of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing Kiev, and the country, in the middle of the night. This is the news behind the news, the story that’s too complex to tell in soundbites of how the ordinary people of Ukraine banded together to demand change. Russian-born filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky now lives in Los Angeles, but he was on the ground in Kiev for the 93 days it took to rebirth a nation. It began in November 2013 as citizens gathered in Kiev’s Maidan Square to insist that their leaders take the first steps toward the nation joining the European Union. “Ukraine is part of Europe,” they chanted, waving Ukrainian and EU flags, and the atmosphere was partylike, all excited exuberant young people full of optimism. That quickly turned to frustration, though, when their voices were ignored, and police started beating up peaceful protesters. So they settled in for a long haul, determined to remain until they were heard, with many people living in the square in a way reminiscent of the Occupy camps we saw in Western cities. Afineevsky shows us what a revolution in the 21st century looks like, where old tactics meet new on both sides. The very effective strategy of the powerful turning ordinary people against one another is in full force, of course: cops are working-class schmoes, too, and one here at least appears ashamed to be on the side dishing out all the violence. But this was also a revolution of Facebook journalists and cell-phone charging stations for the protesters: if the mainstream media outside Ukraine wasn’t paying much attention to Maidan, the Internet certainly was. The power of ridicule in such a communications landscape is vast; how the protesters respond when the desperate government outlaws the wearing of helmets is perfect. Winter on Fire will make you feel downright patriotic for Ukraine, and simpatico with people who — like people everywhere — just want freedom and happiness for themselves and their families. They paid a high price but they had a real impact, and that represents a bit of hope for all of us. Change for the better can happen, but we do still need to fight for it. The powerful do not give up their power willingly.


Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is available now on Netflix in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. (and all other regions).


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom for its representation of girls and women.


green light 4 stars

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Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)
US/Can release: Oct 09 2015 (Netflix same day)
UK/Ire release: direct to Netflix

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong real violence, bloody injury)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Nina

    I’m of Ukrainian descent, and I’ve been meaning to watch this for ages, but just haven’t found myself in the right headspace to take it in, yet. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    I’ve also added “Ukraine is not a Brothel”, which I wasn’t even aware of before I saw its title on your home page, to my must-see watch list! I could use a little Ukrainian-style feminism. I’ve had a few instances where men have assumed I’m some easy sex freak because of my background, and I have to explain that I’m Ukrainian, but definitely “not Internet pop-up Ukrainian”. I guess depictions of Slavic women as (often raped and/or murdered) victims of sex trafficking (which, granted, is a HUGE problem in Ukraine, especially) or submissive, naive wives of Eastern European criminals on lots of police procedurals doesn’t do much to make us look like we can be empowered and independent.

  • I can’t imagine that *Ukraine Is Not a Brothel* got any sort of release anywhere: I saw it at London Film Festival a year or two ago. I should review it cuz it’s awesomely feminist… yet from a totally unexpected angle (at least for us in the West).

    I’m glad to hear that homepage listing is useful to you! Sometimes it’s hard to tell if anyone even notices it.

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