Sundown in Weißensee. A yellow and blue Ukrainian flag flutters in the cool breeze outside the Brotfabrik cultural centre. Inside, the tiny cinema is packed with an international audience here to see a series of short films about the city of Mariupol. Tonight’s organiser is the Ukrainian Kinoklub Berlin, a non-profit initiative originally founded by academic and activist Oleksandra Bienert in 2009 (known since 2018 as UKKB – Cinemova. Ukrainian Film Community Berlin e.V.).
Before the lights go down, Cinemova’s chairperson Polina Atvi takes to the stage wearing a “FUCK PUTIN” hoody, her nails painted blue and yellow, holding a map of Ukraine in one hand. “Mariupol is under siege,” she tells the audience. Reports have just come in of a Russian attack on southern port city’s sprawling Azovstal iron and steel works overlooking the Sea of Azov. Mariupol’s theatre, where hundreds gathered to shelter from the war, was bombed by Russian forces on March 16. Over 130 survived, many more are still being pulled from the rubble under intense shelling.
I just wish that European governments would realise that it’s their war as well.
“It’s been tough for all of us. It’s really hard for us to concentrate and to communicate. We are
in the fog of war,” Polina says. Born and raised in Kyiv, Polina, now 26, was an undergraduate student during the Euromaidan protests. “We are stronger now – we are becoming more patriotic with the more wars and revolutions we experience,” she says. “I have my nails painted blue and yellow, I walk around with the Ukrainian flag. I really want to people to see, to know, to experience, to think about Ukraine.”
Polina moved to Germany about four years ago to complete a Masters in economics and now works as an IT consultant for a blue chip company in Berlin. Before this latest invasion by Russia, Polina would travel to Ukraine every two months and spent January there with her family in Kyiv. “My mum and my grandma were ready to leave Kyiv just before the war. They decided to stay at the last moment. My mum works in a supermarket and she worries that if she leaves Ukraine, then who will supply food to the people?”
Now Polina doesn’t know when she’ll be able to go back. She calls her family every few hours. “Everyday – it’s waking up and thinking if my family are still alive. You never know if tomorrow is the day or not,” she says, adding that she’s frustrated with the lack of support from the EU and the German government. Her biggest fear is that Russia will deploy chemical weapons. “I just wish that European governments would realise that it’s their war as well. It’s not only our war,” she says. “The German government keeps saying that the Second World War, the Nazi regime, Hitler – that none of it is forgotten. But it is obvious that they forgot.”
Polina does not believe that a diplomatic solution to the conflict is now possible. She is adamant that the Ukrainian Kinoklub will not function as a cultural bridge between Ukrainian and Russian artists. “That’s not what we are here for,” she says. “As long as they are killing us, we are not going to be a peaceful bridge to anything related to Russia. What can the Ukrainian Kinoklub do? Show Russian movies and discuss how the poor Russians are also having a hard time? The Russian people may be poorer now, but we are losing our people.”
Anya and Seryozha (2018) is the final film to be shown at tonight’s screening. It follows the friendship between two teenage Ukrainians in Mariupol, their performance in front of the now flattened theatre exudes the melancholy of newly futile hopes. The makers of the film, Ivette Löcker and Inga Pylypchuk, are here for a Q&A after the screening and tell the audience that Seryozha is somewhere in western Ukraine. Anya moved to Estonia before the invasion, her mother recently joined her there. Anya’s father, who also features in the film, stayed in Mariupol (men aged between 18-60 are not allowed to leave the country). Communications in the city are down. They don’t know if he is alive or dead.
Ukrainian Kinoklub Berlin was founded by Oleksandra Bienert in 2009 and morphed into the officially registered non-profit Cinemova – Ukrainian Film Community Berlin e.V. in 2018. During monthly screenings at partner cinemas, including Brotfabrik in Weißensee, the Ukrainian Kinoklub presents contemporary films from Ukraine and other eastern and southern European states, subtitled in German and English. Guest speakers discuss current affairs in eastern Europe. For more info see cinemova.de