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I will be honest, I am not much into documentaries, and watching Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom was more of an impulsive decision than a well-planned one. I was just scrolling through articles and news pieces on Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and then somewhere, I read about this documentary.
The least I had expected from the docu-drama was information. I thought it would augment my intellect and make me smarter. Eventually, I could boast in front of my friends of having watched a documentary based on Ukraine’s freedom in 2014 when all that my friends knew was the current attack by the Russian fanatics.
My aim was to throw some unique and unknown points if I ever got into a debate about Ukraine’s past. That would get me brownie points and short-term fame too.
I belong to India, a country that fought for Independence for years. Our freedom struggle is, by far, the most brutal and gritty battle you would ever come across. I have grown up reading about valiant tales of the Indian freedom fighters.
It was almost like I had nil expectations from Winter on Fire because what would be the fight for freedom for a small nation like Ukraine? Was it even a fight? Did they even struggle? Dude, their battle began and ended in the 21st century, the most peaceful century to date.
Why would someone make a documentary on Ukraine’s freedom? And freedom from whom? They demanded independence from their own administrators or rulers, not from an outsider. All of it just didn’t add up for a goosebump-worthy experience.
In the middle of a writing task, with a fast-approaching deadline, I log in to Netflix, search for “Winter on Fire…”, connect my Airdopes to the laptop, and start the documentary. Ten minutes into it, and everything is going as expected. I am ready to watch only half of it and get back to work. But… but… but!
It was precisely after the first ten minutes that I was so glued to the screen I forgot to close the shutters of my wide-opened mouth. The spirit of Ukrainians and the barbarism of their police force is so intense that I was left flabbergasted, not thrilled or astonished but flabbergasted, after finishing it in one go with no breaks whatsoever.
Having witnessed it myself, I have tried to pen down some reasons why you must watch Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky. But before that, here’s a brief background about what led to Kyiv’s freedom movement in 2013.
A Background of Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Ukraine has been at the tenterhooks of the East (Russia) and the West (Europe) for the most part of its existence. In 1991, the country declared its Independence from the Soviet Union. What should have been a period of holistically rebuilding and improving the country turned out to be a snowballing affair.
In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian, won the Ukrainian Presidential vote. However, the elections were found to be rigged, and people took to the streets to peacefully protest against his presidential tenure. That rebellion came to be known as the Orange Revolution.
The will of people succeeded, and the results were overturned. Yanukovych exited the scene, and Ukraine was back to dreaming of a prosperous future. However, the country’s economic condition worsened in the coming years, and it was on a financial back foot.
Then came 2010 with a return of Yanukovych, who again won the presidential seat and attained complete control of Ukraine. He had promised the people of the EU membership but began secretly negotiating with Russia.
While Ukrainians wanted to look west, their leader decided to move east. The people’s hopes were shattered, and a sense of betrayal engulfed the air. In 2013, with their patience reaching the point of saturation, Ukrainians began their fight for freedom from the anarchist, Yanukovych.
Winter on Fire is based on the 92-day horrific struggle of Ukrainians and portrays what, in my opinion, is amongst the best real accounts of a war-torn incident.
The Power of People
We live in challenging times. Almost everywhere on the planet, some or the other crises are going, but they are all largely non-violent in nature, from political and administrative corruption to religious extremism. Gradually, people have started accepting what is being thrown at them.
Skip back to the Ukraine of 2013, full of corruption and anarchism. People are fed up with their leader, who has done nothing but lie on their face. But they didn’t turn hopeless; they decided to bring a change.
It all begins with a peaceful protest at Maidan (Independence Square), led mainly by the youth. And let me just push in a personal opinion: when the younger generation is mindful of what is happening around them and cannot be brainwashed by bigotry, a country can come out of any challenge it faces.
Soon, people of all ages joined in, and what began as a congregation of hundreds had now become a revolution by thousands.
Raw, Intense, and Heart Wrenching
The documentary doesn’t hold back. There are scenes you would wish were not there simply because they are too heartbreaking to handle. There’s a scene when Berkut (Riot Police of Ukraine) takes away a protestor, which was fine. But what they do next is take off his clothes and start beating him mercilessly to instill fear and satiate themselves.
If I count and textually produce all such incidents, this blog might turn into a short e-book. So, it’s better you hop on to Netflix and get the ball going.
Take any freedom revolution or a civil disobedience movement; it is the police forces who are the biggest villains. The same goes with Ukraine’s freedom struggle; however, the ruthlessness produced by them is of another level.
They forget basic moral standards in the quest to save their leader and perform their professional duties. Despite knowing the ones they are standing against are their own people of Ukraine, the Berkut and the police force jolt them with all their might.
The administration even releases criminals and pays them to go on the streets and fight the common people seeking change. They shoot the unarmed, beat the peaceful, and do all they can while following orders.
People plead in front of the police and even ask them to stay along and support the movement, all to their dismay. The force goes on to destroy makeshift hospitals and whatnot!
However, despite all this, they cannot kill the spirit of the people. And that’s why you need to watch Winter on Fire.
The World Needs Hope
Exactly! The world needs hope. Whether it was the coronavirus pandemic, wars, or discriminative events, at one point, we all needed hope to overcome them. Majorly, it was a mental need than a physical requirement.
Ukraine’s fight and all other freedom struggles instill hope in the minds of those who read about it later. Here, you get to watch it.
It gives goosebumps, shakes you to depths, and swirls your mind. Above all, you end up having hope that despite this being the century of technology, the power of people remains paramount.
How to Remain Gritty in Adversity
There’s a 12-year-old kid shown in the documentary who wanted to contribute to the struggle in any way he could. Obviously, the times are tough, and a teenager shouldn’t be exposed to such cold-hearted scenes at such a young age.
Nevertheless, the kid takes part, and when he sees people around him getting shot, he doesn’t give up. Instead, he chooses to be strong and keep his morale high all the time. Remember his age? He’s just 12.
There are numerous scenes of barbarism in Winter on Fire, but then there’s hope that anything can be overcome if your goals are legit and spirit is indomitable.
Before starting to watch the documentary, I had thought of posting a review later on. By the time it ended, I had realized I was not a worthy man to review the courage of people.
With Russia lethally pounding on Kyiv, this is the best time to watch Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.