Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is only available on Netflix right now, so if you don’t have a subscription, you’re missing a very powerful, well-made documentary. The bulk of the film was shot over 93 days in 2013 and 2014 in the central square of Kiev called the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Thousands of students came to the square to protest Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s choice not to join the EU. But what began as a peaceful protest quickly became a violent revolution and ultimately led to the president sneaking away in the night. The film is very much like last year’s The Square, in that it puts you right in the center of the action with the people fighting and dying around you. Their courage to stand up for democracy is truly inspiring.
Though students were those who got the movement rolling, they were soon joined by all strata of Ukrainian society — clergy of every religion, the old, celebrities, doctors, various military groups, and lots of people from outside the city. But they were up against not only the brutal special police forces called the Berkut, but also a group of sadistic criminal thugs known as Titushky. And as their number swelled, the Parliament passed more and more repressive laws to try and stop them. But the people did not back down and the police switched out rubber bullets for live ammo. There is one shot in the film that is as devastating as anything I’ve ever seen. A man goes out into the melee to help one of the wounded and is shot dead. You see him hit and you see the life drain out of him. Clad in black helmets with riot gear, the police burned hospitals and destroyed their medicine. They beat unarmed people to death. They personified evil.
If there is a flaw with the film, it is that it is entirely from one point of view. There are those in Ukraine who did not want to be a part of the EU, and hence the ongoing Eastern Ukraine tilt towards Russia and the fighting there right now. But as a testament to the young people who organized nearly a million people and fought back the repressive powers in their country it is really quite a beautiful film. I highly recommend it.