Film Review: Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (★★★½)

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Anti-government protests in Kiev January 25, 2014. After two months of primarily peaceful anti-government protests in the city center, new laws meant to end the protest movement have sparked violent clashes in recent days. Deadly violence erupted on both sides.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom recounts the brutal events that unfolded over 93 day period in 2013 and 2014 in the tumultuous Ukraine, just prior to the civil rights movement that helped reform the country. Originating as a peaceful student demonstration to support Ukraine’s European assimilation, the protest escalated into an egregiously savage revolution, eventually calling for the resignation of the nation’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, who originally came to power through rigged elections.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky and his crew of filmmakers covered this rising political dilemma from ground zero, capturing haunting interviews and graphic imagery that gave the crisis in Winter an added sense of immediacy. Theywinte_key_002_h
were there to document the beatings by police forces on peaceful demonstrators that led to the full on civil insurrection of the country, and they were there as nearly a million Ukrainians assembled together to revolt against the police state while the conditions of the revolution quickly worsened.

What is witnessed can only be defined as exceptionally disgraceful, barbaric cruelty that progressively worsened – from uncalled for bloodshed, to, ultimately, mass murdering. But Winter on Fire is as much a devastating portrait of mankind at their worst as it is a tribute to the courageous spirit and unity of those who refuse to be broken. Through well-timed interviews, we get to meet the people of the revolution – activists, medics, journalists, clergy, and volunteers (including a memorable 12-year old) that span all ages and social classes. Their remarkable ability to mobilize such large forces against the corrupt Yanukovych regime, and their unending resilience against oppression is wholly astonishing and inspiring to behold.

Winter on Fire recently won the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I suspect that will be just the start for this enthralling and provocative film. It’s hands down the best documentary I’ve seen this year, and one that I urge you to seek out when it becomes available on Netflix (as well as in theaters in NY and LA) on October 9.