Documentary short film “Ukrainians in Exile” puts the people in frame.

For as long as someone thought themselves superior to another, for as long as someone believed themselves owed what belongs to another, there has been colonization. The roots likely go deeper than we know for sure, but, starting in February 2014, pro-Russian forces invaded Crimea and Donbas, starting what’s known as the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity. On February 24th of 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin escalated things to invading Ukraine, a choice that not only impacted the peoples of the affected areas, but setting all the world on edge in fear of a third World War. Offering a look at life inside Ukraine is the short film Ukrainians in Exile (Ukrayintsi u Vyhnanni) from director Janek Ambros (Mondo Hollywood) who went to Ukraine in March of 2022 to capture as much as possible on camera. Supported by dialogue from an anonymous individual known by the pseudonym Anya (for their protection), in under seven minutes, Ambros invites global audiences to not just look, but see the people of Ukraine as more than lines of text in a tweet or copy in a news report.

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A scene from documentary UKRAINIANS IN EXILE.

Psychologically speaking, when an individual doesn’t feel an immediate threat or pressure from something, it’s easy to cast it off, throw it in the background, or just ignore it. This is one of the bigger issues with today’s interconnected world as it means that problems with increased prices, for example, is often placed on the person in charge of a country instead of the real issue: a war creates supply chain issues therefore creating an opportunity for businesses to raise prices ahead of shortages. But your local individual doesn’t care about the whys and wherefores, they just want to get the thing they want. A documentary like Ambros’s offers a chance to change that. In less than seven minutes, audiences are taken through a number of different locations, Ambros showing audiences cityscapes and rural areas, showing us the people, bundled with bags packed, heading to who-knows-where as we listen to testimony of someone explaining the uncertainty of life at present. You think life’s hard because you can’t get your yogurt with mixings at the grocery or gas is suddenly exorbitantly high? Have you considered that maybe rushing out of your home for fear of death by bombing from indiscriminate warfare might be a bigger concern? Or that the rising prices in gas are tied directly to sanctions against Russia, a country which produces a great deal of oil? While individuals can selfishly proclaim their right to froyo, the story Anya tells speaks of a different and far more essential right: to live without fear of being bombed. Ambros’s documentary and Anya’s testimony don’t address the specific examples mentioned, but it’s there on the outskirts when one takes a moment to consider the major discrepancy between what they consider valuable and important amidst war versus what those of us not under siege complain about.

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A scene from documentary UKRAINIANS IN EXILE.

Instead of addressing these global connections, Ambros and Anya go more micro, zeroing in on images of people walking the streets, bustling to transportation, huddling together around fires at night, and eating meals served from volunteers. In concert with the images, the dialogue conveys the concerns that any reasonable person would have in extraordinary circumstances. Questions aren’t being asked about social status or influence, nor of any other petty, inconsequential thing; rather, the dialogue ponders how they and refugees like them will be received by other countries, how they will continue each day despite the violence being thrust upon them. There’s optimism despite the harrowing experience, making the barely seven-minute documentary feel emotionally powerful and defiant by its end. Between the powerful vocal delivery and the raw resonance within the scenes shared with us, one would have to be without heart or conscience to view the aggression against the people of Ukraine as anything less than the act of someone absent humanity, possessing only greed. Especially as the doc builds toward its end, showing the multinational volunteers, Ambros creates a sense that the only way to survive the war, even end it, is if we band together against the tyranny of Russia.

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A scene from documentary UKRAINIANS IN EXILE.

As more and more reports of Russian attacks on civilian targets emerge months after the start of the invasion, it’s difficult to find someone who supports Putin unequivocally. But, those who do, often do so because they perceive a certain spiritual determination that sees what Putin is doing as mighty and just, as any other imperialist colonizer may to any other country they deem inferior or rightfully theirs. To those individuals, Ambros offers Anya’s words and scenes of her people. People who, though facing deportation to avoid death, have not lost heart or hope. Who could look into the faces of the children being boarded onto trains to anywhere and then complain about the cost of gas? Ukrainians in Exile, brief though it may be, lingers because it is the truth, dwelling within the viewer, asking them to take action, however small, so that the conflict may end. If nothing else, it offers a moral perspective that the so-called compassionate among us lose when checking receipts at the counter. Things could always be worse. We could be in exile.

Premiering at the Morelia International Film Festival October 23rd, 2022.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

Ukrainians in Exile poster

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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