Klondike – the war in Ukraine



Commentary on the film directed by Maryna Er Gorbach

The war we are witnessing in Eastern Europe – perplexed and astonished – did not start in 2022, says Maryna Er Gorbach, director of Klondike – the war in Ukraine - started in 2014, shortly after the Russian occupation of Crimea. Next, pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces seized Ukrainian government buildings in 2014 and proclaimed the regions as independent “people's republics”. Until February 2022, when the Russian army invaded Ukraine, around 14 people had died in fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces in Donbass, as the region is known.

Ukraine accuses Russia of supporting the rebels militarily and financially, a charge Moscow denies. The film takes place in a compact time, just a few days, with the tragic epicenter of July 17, 2014, when a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile, fired by the separatists, shot down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was going from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing 283 passengers and 15 crew. The plane crashed near the village of Hrabove, north of Torez, a city in the east of the Donetsk region, close to the border with Russia – exactly where the residence of the protagonist couple, Irka and Tolik, is located.

The moment of the crash was recorded by witnesses, photographs from the crash site show broken and scattered parts of the fuselage and engine parts, as well as bodies and passports – some of the wreckage landed near Hrabove, and are seen by the characters. Dozens of bodies fell into the fields and houses: there were no survivors. Among the victims were more than a hundred scientists from International AIDS Society, who were going to attend a conference in Melbourne, Australia. The aircraft's black box has not been found to date. A few days earlier, one of the leaders of pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, Igor Girkinm (aka Igor Strelkov), claimed that any plane flying over the region would be shot down.

Klondike – the war in Ukraine does not emphasize the pathetic slaughter as the driving event of the narrative: but it obviously generates an extra tension in the atmosphere, attracting Russian militiamen and soldiers to Irka's house, pregnant and on the verge of childbirth. Of course, with the plane crash, the death toll increased suddenly, around the house, a small farm that also houses a dairy cow. The house, by the way, had already been the victim of a missile coming from nowhere.

But the war and its violence are, at this beginning, somewhere in the visual infinity, outside the immediate focus of the characters' visual capacity, despite the destructive impact. Most of the film seems to happen in real time, counteracting the pressures of the son who announces himself to the war that the couple cannot escape. External tension enters the interior of the home through Irka's brother, Yaryk, suspicious that his brother-in-law may be supporting the Russians – and also through his friend Sanya, who takes Tolik's truck without permission to provide services to the separatists.

The plans are open, spacious, even inside the half-destroyed house – panoramic and traveling shots border the abyss of this merciless conflict, without the tricks that try to give a sense of authenticity to images of violence. Eschewing claustrophobic situations, which since Griffith's day have served as anchors to build dramatic tension, Maryna Er Gorbach – who also wrote the screenplay and edited the film – focuses on the rural couple who don't seem inclined to join the pro militias. -Russia, remaining somewhat loyal to Ukrainian ties.

A long political-diplomatic process underlies the particular fabric of Klondike – the war in Ukraine. After extensive negotiations, Ukraine and Russia reached an understanding on October 1, 2019 to try to end the war in Donbass. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participated in the talks, alongside Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky. The agreement provided for free elections in the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, under international observation and verification, and later these territories would be reintegrated into Ukraine with status specials, according to the result of the vote.

About 3,6 million people live in the region, the majority speaking Russian, a result of the migration of workers from Russia to the region after World War II, during the Soviet era. Research made by an international entity, carried out in March 2019, reported that 55% of the population of the areas affected by the conflict favored reintegration with Ukraine: of these, 24% supported full reintegration in the way it was before the war, while 33% supported the return , but with the Donbass region having special status within Ukraine. Tensions escalated, and in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukrainian territory under the pretext of “liberating” Donetsk and Lugansk, and “denazifying” Ukraine.

*João Lanari Bo Professor of Cinema at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Brasilia (UnB).



Klondike – the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine, Türkiye, 2021, 100 minutes

Direction and screenplay: Maryna Er Gorbach

Cast: Oksana Cherkashyna, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Shcherbina, Oleg Shevchuk, Artur Aramyan, Evgeniy Efremov


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