Studio 9 Films with Gwara Media produces one of the first films from Ukraine since the start of war
Since Russia’s invasion on 24th February this year, Ukraine’s northern city of Kharkiv has experienced waves of targeted missiles causing devastating destruction to the city. Studio 9 Films collaborates with Kharkiv’s Gwara Media to produce one of the first films to emerge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, documenting life under fire through the lives of its citizens.
Serhii Prokopenko, leader of a social enterprise business prior to Russia’s invasion in February, uses his creativity and adaptability to try video journalism for the first time. With his back to a building that has been reduced to rubble, he confides to his camera, "I’m not a war reporter and I don’t really know how to do this, but it seems like I’m learning". Prokopenko is not the only citizen who has drastically altered his profession in the new face of war: ‘These are rescuers who dismantle debris, put out fires and rescue people around the clock. These are people of all professions who have postponed their main work and are primarily volunteers,’ he says.
“It was the beginning of March when I saw a post from Kharkiv, offering local content and verified UGC” says Studio 9 Films founder and Executive Producer Fiona Lloyd-Davies. She immediately contacted Serhii Prokopenko, CEO of Gwara Media and their collaboration started. Fiona brought in ex-BBC producer and friend, Allie Wharf and with Serhii and his two colleagues, Yaroslav and Oleksii, they started to record daily life for the people living in Kharkiv under constant Russian bombardment.
Yarolsav Ustich, born and raised in Kharkiv, is one of the film’s main protagonists. The twenty-four year-old documents his new life, sheltering with his family in their second-floor apartment in Kharkiv, leaving the small space only for food provisions. “Sometimes it was hard to gather my thoughts and do what was required. Especially at the beginning, in those difficult first weeks”, he says. In his daily video diaries, Ustich expresses feelings of fear and anger - which are only intensified by his being limited to the four walls of his home.
Also featuring in the film is owner of Hell’s Kitchen, Egor Goroshko, who volunteers preparing food for those whose lives have been decimated by the constant attacks on the city. Working up to eighteen hours a day, Goroshko embodies the resilience of Kharkiv’s residents to protect their city, and more importantly each other, from the daily devastations each day of the war brings.
One of his volunteers, Andrii worked for a leading Ukrainian satellite and missile manufacturer before the war but now brings food, medicines and medical help to people on the frontline. On the day Serhii follows him with his camera he goes to an area pummeled by Russian artillery where they find 86 year old Lidia Romanivna who has been trapped in her 5th floor flat.
While authorities are reluctant to reveal the number of fatalities in the country's second largest city, regional governor, Oleh Synyehubov, put the official civilian death toll at more than 100 in March. Within the same month, Kharkiv police estimated that around 250 civillians, including 13 children, have been killed since the start of the war. According to the city’s emergency service agency, at least 500 civilians have been killed in the city of 1.4 million people, with the attacks coming mainly at night.
The film introduces other civilians who are concentrating their efforts into saving the city's heritage. Maryna Filatova, takes us on a tour of the Kharkiv Museum of the Arts, where she shows us irreplaceable artworks damaged by changes in the temperature and pieces of broken glass following nearby explosions. Measures taken to protect Kharkiv's valuable paintings demonstrate how the repeated bombardment of Russian missiles does not discriminate between military targets and Ukraine’s art, culture, and architecture.
More than 600 buildings have been destroyed since the start of Russia’s invasion, according to Mayor Ihor Terekhov in a televised interview in March. Among these are cultural landmarks such as the Kharkiv State Academic Opera, Ballet Theatre, Kharkiv Philharmonic and the Palace of Industry; a Constructivist building dating from 1928 that is currently on a UNESCO list for consideration as a World Heritage site.
The Gwara Media team comprises three individuals with Oleksii staying behind the camera doing essential production work and supporting the on-camera team. The team remark that making the film is helping them cope with their own sense of loss and fear of experiencing a war for the first time.
Producer, Allie Wharf, is full of praise for the first-time documentary makers: ‘Working with Serhii, Yaroslav and Oleksii has been a great privilege. I’m awed by their bravery, courage and tenacity in bringing their stories and the experiences of their fellow residents of Kharkiv to life in this film. It’s been a two-way learning experience and I’m looking forward to our next collaboration if we can make that happen. The reception to the film has been incredible’.
Studio 9 Film’s founder Fiona Lloyd-Davies remarks “I am incredibly proud of this film and the team who have been able to produce such a gripping and inspiring portrait of the people of Kharkiv living under this siege. Studio 9 Films very much hopes to continue working with Gwara Media to bring more stories from Kharkiv to the screen”.
In spite of its destruction, Kharkiv and its people remain determined to survive and communicate their message with the rest of the world. Oleksii, a Gwara Media contributor concludes, “Our teamwork was blessed. I'm sure it has a reason”.
Watch the full film Ukraine: A City Under Siege on Al Jazeera English: People and Power here.