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Ukrainian filmmaker says fights ‘don’t look like the movies’ | Daily Express Online

Ukrainian filmmaker says fights ‘don’t look like the movies’

Published on: Thursday March 24, 2022


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Sentsov. (Photo: Sergei Supinsky)

KYIV: Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov spent five years in a Russian prison for protesting its takeover of Crimea, and now he’s on the front lines for revenge. Instead of being behind a camera, the EU Sakharov Rights Prize winner signed up as a Home Defense volunteer to repel the invasion of Moscow. “This fight is not like you imagine it in the movies,” Sentsov said, dressed in khaki camouflage and a beanie, a beard covering his clean-shaven face.


“Close contact, shooting with small arms, there is not so much. Most of the time it is artillery and your task is to hold the front line in the trenches, not to die under the bombardments,” he told AFP. The 45-year-old is repeatedly coughing due to an illness which he says occurred during a break of a few days after serving on the front lines against Russian forces in freezing conditions. Sentsov was forging a successful career as a freelance filmmaker when the 2014 Maidan protests and Russia’s annexation of Crimea turned his life upside down. He wrote and directed his first movie “Gamer” in 2011 on a budget of just $20,000 and, at the time of his arrest in 2014, was planning to make another movie, “Rhino.” Convicted of planning arson, he was sent to a penal colony in the Russian Arctic where he went on a 145-day hunger strike during which he lost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) before his death. release in 2019. Leaning against a barricade, Sentsov says his long years behind bars in Russia had shown him that Moscow would not just take Crimea. “Some of my friends after my release from captivity were like, ‘Oh, you’re so radical, you hate Russians, they’re not that bad’,” says the filmmaker.


“But now they understand me, because I spent five years there, I saw how they treat Ukrainians, Europeans, with their imperial ambitions, their cruelty.” The director didn’t hesitate to commit when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24. “From the first days of the war, I joined the Territorial Defence,” he says, and spent two weeks manning checkpoints on the outskirts of kyiv. But he was then pushed to the “first line of defence” alongside military units in the forests at an undisclosed location outside kyiv. Russia “made a Vietnam” for Ukrainian forces with intense barrages of shelling and rocket fire which they resisted, Sentsov says. But he believes that with forces from Moscow trying to continue their stalled offensive and encircle the Ukrainian capital, the fighting will become even more intense. “If the offensive starts in our direction, we will be the first line to stop it and there will be more close combat,” he said. For now, the promising directorial career that saw Sentsov’s films screened at European film festivals seems a long way off. “I don’t film now. First of all, there is no time. Second, I don’t want it,” he said. Ukrainian officials offered him to work in the press office “because of my famous name, but it was not my path. My background is that of a simple soldier. He said he received letters of support, including from the European Film Academy and Ukrainian filmmakers “but now, in wartime, it doesn’t matter if you’re a filmmaker, a bus driver or a simple worker – we’re all soldiers. But he hopes to return to the cinema one day, even if it may take time to have a “cold head” to make a film about the war. “I don’t know what kind of film I will do. I had already written many screenplays before the war. Maybe I’ll come up with some ideas here,” he said. For now though, he will continue to view war through a rifle sight instead of a camera sight. “I have lived different lives, my life has changed, my activity has changed. Cinema is only a part of my life – now it is in my life that I think it is most useful to my country.
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