«Donbass»: The New Ukrainian Film about the «Orcs» of the East«Donbass»: The New Ukrainian Film about the «Orcs» of the East«Donbass»: The New Ukrainian Film about the «Orcs» of the East

«Donbass»: The New Ukrainian Film about the «Orcs» of the East

Andriy Manchuk
«Donbass»: The New Ukrainian Film about the «Orcs» of the East
Ukrainian film projects are fully focused on promoting the state ideology of nationalism, with calls for a holy war against the enemy.


The film “Donbass”, directed by Sergey Loznitsa, officially represents Ukraine at this year’s prestigious international cinema forums, such as festivals in Toronto and Cannes - and the Ukrainian Oscar Committee pushed it as its nomination for “Best Foreign Language Film”.

And indeed - this work puts the Ukrainian filmmaker on par with Oscar-winner Peter Jackson. Watching the characters of “Donbass”, they immediately remind one of the well-known types of Orcs and goblins from the fabulous movie trilogies “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Imagine these ridiculous, ugly and cruel creatures that were dressed in vests and camouflage, giving them machine guns, St. George ribbons, bottles of vodka - and you get a fairly accurate image of Donbass and its inhabitants in their representation by the best of the modern Ukrainian intelligentsia.

With all the irony of comparing Jackson with Loznitsa, these parallels can hardly be called accidental. I immediately recalled the political advertisements made by the election team of Yulia Tymoshenko, which can still be found on YouTube. Then, in the elections of 2010, Ukrainian political consultants actively exploited the video sequence of Jackson’s Orcs, using them to depict the electorate of Viktor Yanukovich - first of all, and the inhabitants of the Donbass, generally. Loznitsa takes on the same task, not a creative one, but a completely political task of dehumanizing the inhabitants of the war-ridden region - as well as all the other “anti-Ukrainian” elements in the territory of Ukraine that fully fit into the set of its propaganda clichés.

“The film itself consists of a number of sketches, in which the author tries to present the residents of Donbass by certain outcasts and insanely caricatured characters - some of whom are forced to live in the caves of bomb shelters, others have nothing in common with a normal human appearance; others are making money in the Kiev controlled territories, and the fourth type are engaged in extortion. As a result, the film will add grief to immigrants from Donbass and to the image of the country as a whole,” writes Kiev film critic Andrei Nedzelnitsky.

Yes, the figures of “Donetsk” were written out in a frankly grotesque way, and look too dirty even for our nationalist mainstream. So it is quite possible that it is mainly designed for a completely inexperienced foreign viewer who knows almost nothing about the social realities of the eastern regions of Ukraine.

“The fact that this film is imbued with hatred and contempt for the population of the region not under the control of the Ukrainian authorities is not at all surprising. It was not worth expecting another kind of film from the author of “Maidan”. Already from the trailer, the film causes only disgust, and there is nothing new or interesting in it, if it were not for one of its features. It represents the export version of Ukrainian nationalist propaganda, where instead of the usual “Sovok” jackets with the symbols of the USSR, the viewer sees Orthodox fanatics with banners. After all, Ukrainian anti-Sovietism and anti-communism for domestic use are unlikely to be understood by a Western viewer. And in its place, in this “reality” of the film, Ukrainian “almost-Europeans” defend Western civilization from the Orthodox version of ISIL. Although, any Ukrainian patriot knows that the “godless proletariat”, brought up in Soviet workshops and mines, dwells in the Donbass,” argues Alexander Mitrofanov, a Dnepropetrovsk blogger.

Loznitsa himself is aware of this. In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda on the eve of the release, he reasoned the heavy legacy of the “Sovok” to be the main cause of the war. “The main reason is that we still continue to live with the legacy of the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that they changed their passports, people remained the same Soviet citizens. And it will take a long time to get out of this, ” the prominent Ukrainian director said. Thus, his picture can be viewed as another reference example of classical social racism, which demonizes the political opponents of the current Ukrainian government to the maximum - representing a dialogue with them impossible in principle.

This last moment strikes many Ukrainians. “An ugly look at the Donbass from Loznitsa. The conjuncture film made for the festival and development of the correct Ukrainian position in the eyes of the West. Thirteen subjects that look like a thrash-cutting out of the dark - so exaggerated that you just don’t believe it. The plot does not hold the viewer. It seems that the author wanted to say with a picture - build a wall and roll the entire Donbass into the concrete, ”said Kiev journalist Yana Novoselova during her presentation.

In fact, the logic of aversion imposed on these vicious Orcs in the picture implies that they cannot be corrected — the rudiments of the consciousness of the Soviet empire of evil so deeply settled in their black souls described by Loznitsa. So the warriors of light should forever go against them in a merciless crusade, setting against the evil the newfound spirit of the correct Ukrainian Orthodox - at which banners it is impermissible to laugh in any circumstance.

“One can only find reality in this movie only if you strongly want to see the truth in muddy water. Or strongly hate life, the proletariat, and distant relatives. Or believe that these filmmakers are making films based on real events. Or live all their life in Kiev. Citizens who dream to see confirmation of their fears and stereotypes about the bloody and wild ghouls with “karamuls”, who hide behind civilians from the best army in Europe, you will need to see it. And it will be a laugh. The director gathered in one pile, the entire set of available clichés and for some reason filmed them, spicing them up according to the level of his education and understanding with scabrous stories. This is not even the usual incitement and provocation, but typical cannibalism, which has become the dominant feature of professional patriots and artists in social networks. The author chose not to make a movie about events in the Donbass, but tried only to place himself in honorable roles on one side of the front line as a director and screenwriter of the adaptation of a myth, on a given topic about ghouls who live on the other side of the line of demarcation. This is so elevating, raising the spirit and even straightening the shoulders, ”blogger Alexander Timoshenko summed up, also noting the particular hatred of Loznitsa towards the “working class orcs”.

Ukrainian film projects are fully focused on promoting the state ideology of nationalism, with calls for a holy war against the enemy. Moreover, Loznitsa has even more worthy competitors in this field. Recently, a tape with the intriguing title “The Secret Diary of Simon Petliura” was released in Ukrainian theatres, which caused outrage among the most loyal representatives of the patriotic film audience.

Noting the complete lack of talent of the new film, the whole idea of which is to present Petliura as an innocent victim of the Bolsheviks and their agent, the anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard (adding gasoline to the flaming fire of anti-Semitism in the country). Film critics especially noted the not small fifty million hrynvia of mostly government money that was spent making the film. And it is not surprising - after all, its director was a prominent Ukrainian film director Oles Yanchuk, who, after the victory of Maidan, headed the Alexander Dovzhenko Film Studio. Moreover, he did not hesitate to put his own daughter in this film, and also provided a role for the Minister of Culture Yevgeny Nishchuk - which very transparently hints at the reasons for the generous financial support of a completely incompetent film. In this sense, Yanchuk repeats the activities of his long-time friend, the Chairman of the State Committee for Cinematography, Philip Ilyenko, a prominent activist of the far-right Svoboda party. As it became known, he paid large premiums to his cousin Maria Ilyenko, who headed the Department of State Regulation of Cinema and Video Rentals with him, with the aim of a shock campaign to ban Soviet and Russian films.

“After watching, I have to agree with most critics. Because there is almost no secret diary in the film, and Benyuk in the role of Hrushevsky is absolutely disastrous, and Nishchuk should be remembered that while he is the minister, in films co-financed by his ministry, it’s better not to be filmed just to avoid criticism; and the style of the reel is Soviet-style primitive, and the battle scenes are horribly filmed, and the voice acting is generally worth a separate anti-award. To be honest, under the guise of a film, we were offered a rather mediocre theatrical production. The Petliura of Yanchuk is a robot that has only one function: to be sad about your defeats, to pity Ukraine and speak banality. According to the director, it should look like a patriotic film. But I doubt that someone such a view can cause sympathy, left alone delight. Petlura is unlikely to become a hero, a role model for viewers,” lamented the Den newspaper columnist Andrei Lyubka.

“Yanchuk doesn't think about movies. Yanchuk thinks about political relevance and that under the flags of decommunization and other processes related to the reinterpretation of history, one can shove at the viewer and, obviously, culture officials, an indigestible bundle of poorly assembled, directed, written and drafted scenes. In his attempts to show the protagonist from various sides “for show”, Yanchuk falls into the abyss of vulgarity, incompetentness and nepotism,” another review published in the Left Bank edition under the telling title:“ Shameful movie: what is wrong with ”The secret diary of Simon Petliura”.

Yes, this is a deeply correct title - moreover, it concerns almost all the shameful productions of the modern agitprop, which were filmed at the expense of the state, and then failed at the box office.

“It may be recalled that all similar patriotic films made after 2014 suffered the same fate. Audiences were reluctant to go to the Cyborg film, which was allocated 48 million UAH from the state budget, but only took in 20 million at the box office. The film Bitter Harvest, directed by George Mendelyuk, was shot with money from the Canadian diaspora, with the support of the state budget and the story about the Holodomor famine. With a budget of 20 million dollars, it brought only $322 thousand from the box office. The film "Red" (the same director who shot "Call Sign Banderas"), glorifying the UPA, with a budget of 20 million UAH. gave only 3 mln at the box office. "My grandmother Fanny Kaplan" collected only about 340 thousand UAH in the box office, with a budget of 22 million UAH. The patriotic film "Nezlamna", with a budget of 38 million UAH. collected only 14 million UAH. One of the only Ukrainian films that paid off at the box office and brought its creators a relatively small profit - “8 Best Dates” - is a comedy that does not concern political issues, was shot in Russian and without state budget funding. Attendance records were in October of this year for the hit movie "Mad Wedding" - also an easy apolitical comedy, "wrote Dmitry Kovalevich.

Our audience should be ashamed to realize that the subject of the most important art is reduced in Ukraine to the tasks of primitive, vulgar propaganda that incites hatred of “Sovoks and Orcs”. Moreover, this was solely by virtue of career adaptability and political conjuncture, which was skillfully used by a whole pool of resourceful corrupt officials.

In the meantime, a concert was held in Donetsk, where local residents performed Ukrainian-language songs by the Western Ukrainian Okean Elzy group - as if to show what the myths about them were worth.

Andriy Manchuk

Translated by Peter Menko


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