"a truly amazing experience, in which we are given front row seats to history in the making"

In late 2013 and early 2014 the Ukrainian people rose up in defiance of what they perceived as a dictatorial government, run by a President who they viewed as a Russian puppet. The result of that popular uprising was a revolution that saw the government overthrown and the Ukrainian people facing a new and uncertain future. The Oscar-nominated documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom captures this momentous event providing an up-close, eye-witness account of history in progress.

The film follows the evolution of what came to be known as Euromaiden. In late 2013 following the rejection of an EU trade deal by the pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovcyh, peaceful protests arose from those seeking closer ties with Europe and to lessen Russian influence over Ukrainian affairs. As the government began to crack down on the protests with ever-increasing levels of brutality, the movement eventually began to fight back, turning the protests into a battle for the future of Ukraine itself.

The film is a collection of footage filmed throughout this period, beginning in late-2013 following Yanukovcyh’s rejection of the EU trade deal despite popular support, to February 2014 when Yanukovcyh fled the country to seek asylum in Russia, and a new government took over in Kiev. The film focuses primarily on an area of the capital city, dubbed the Maiden, or Independence Square, in which the initial protests gathered in anger at the government’s rejection of the trade deal.

The imagery is powerful to say the least, from a celebration of New Year’s Eve in 2013, in which the crowd raises torches to create a beautiful sea of light, to the night sky illuminated by the flames of burning buildings and barricades as the revolution enters its crucial stages.

It wisely does not shy away from revealing the horrific side of this revolution. We see the protestors being viciously battered, their blood-stained and bruised faces revealing their ordeal, more than words ever could. Once the security services begin to use live ammunition and become increasingly trigger happy in their oppression, the film still does not shy away from showing the brutality of the regime, as we bear witness to young men being cut down by sniper bullets and clutching at their last breaths.

Throughout are interviews from those present at the protests, ranging from journalists, singers, to most notably a 12-year-old boy. The interviewees provide stories of the brutality they witnessed and endured, but what sticks in my mind are the stories of heroism, such as a woman recalling how several men surrounded her as they were beaten by riot police, to protect her from harm. Or when a mass of riot police threatened to remove the protestors from the Maiden square, all men joined together to hold them back, while the woman proudly sang the national anthem in defiance. It is moving to hear such stories and you can’t help but feel a strong sense of admiration for the Ukrainian people in such a difficult time.

Winter on Fire is a truly amazing experience, in which we are given front row seats to history in the making. We see the blood that has been shed by the men and women of Ukraine to gain their freedom, we see the pride with which they carry themselves, and we sympathise with their struggle against an increasingly violent and authoritarian regime. While film does not touch upon the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine between the new government and Pro-Russian separatists, apart from a brief mention at the film’s end, it seems to promote a message that peace and unity can be achieved if the Ukrainian people work together for the benefit of future generations and to honour the struggle of those who did not live to see the revolution fulfilled.