Yevhen Afineevsky: "What happened in Ukraine will happen in other countries if the world does not unite"


Pope Francis organized a screening of the film "Freedom on Fire" in Vatican on the anniversary of the full-scale russian invasion: Ukraine's Struggle for Freedom" ("Freedom on Fire") - a sequel to the documentary "Winter on Fire" by American director Yevhen Afineevsky (dedicated to the events on the Maidan in 2014). The screening was attended by Ukrainian refugees, diplomats and relatives of captured soldiers of the "Azov" regiment.

The sequel covers the events of the last eight years in Ukraine and is based on a large number of eyewitness accounts, interviews, news clippings, as well as footage from destroyed Ukrainian cities. The film has already won an award at a United States film festival and an award from the Brizzolar Family Foundation.
After another screening, we had the opportunity to talk with the author about his work, the war, the continuing struggle of the Ukrainian people, and the help of the civilized world.

Yevhen made his first documentary about Ukraine during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014. His work was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the director was already planning how he would document the current bloody events. 

He says he predicted that the war would happen soon. After all, many factors and actions of dictator Putin and his regime pointed to it. Therefore, after the large-scale invasion, Yevhen Afinievsky oriented his team to work as quickly as possible in order to show the world the evil that came to the territory of Ukraine. The horror, suffering and pain that the Russian invaders brought to peaceful and prosperous Ukrainian cities.

The film was created by 43 cameramen and 9 editors. The filmmakers managed to film more than a hundred participants in these horrific events. In several months of continuous work in the most difficult conditions, Yevhen Afineevsky managed to create a film that shows not only the current Russian-Ukrainian war, but also the factors that caused this development.

«Freedom on Fire: Ukraine's Struggle for Freedom» premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September last year.

After the screening, we had the opportunity to talk to the author about his work, the war, the further struggle of the Ukrainian people and the help of the civilized world.  


Yevhen Afineevsky

  • Yevhen Afineevsky is an American film director, producer, actor, screenwriter, president of New Generation Films (Hollywood).
  • The director is known for his journalistic documentaries «Winter on Fire» about the Euromaidan in Ukraine and «Tears from Syria» about the civil war in that country, as well as the documentary «Francesco» about Pope Francis.
  • «Winter on Fire» won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada.
  • In the fall of 2015, he was awarded the Ivan Mazepa Cross by the President of Ukraine.
  • In January 2016, Yevheniy Afineevsky and Netflix's 2013-2014 film «Winter on Fire» was nominated for an Academy Award.

The war is much closer

- Yevhen, your work «Freedom on Fire: Ukraine's Struggle for Freedom» is not only about the horrors of war as such. It is also a manifesto warning the whole world - if the Russian-Ukrainian war gains momentum, it will affect the whole world. If Russia wins, other countries will be next.

- Yes. This work unites Ukrainians with people from other countries in the fight against evil. Everyone beyond the borders of Ukraine must realize that what happened will happen in other countries if the world does not really unite against Russian aggression. For me personally, the current events are the beginning of the Third World War. Every century brings us a kind of dictator. In 1812, it was Napoleon, who wanted to take over the whole Europe, and it didn't end well. Then there was another dictator who had the same imperialistic plans in 1939-1945. This century has brought us a new dictator, Putin. At the same time, the price for such mistakes is increasing with each passing century, as weapons become more powerful, and the number of victims increases. In my opinion, the camera has also become a weapon long ago. So I want to encourage people to rethink certain things. After the last credits of this film, the audience should realize that horror, death and destruction of cities will come to other countries very soon... if the world does not unite against the bloody expansion of Putin's evil empire. For the freedom of Ukraine is the freedom of the whole Europe and the world.


Pope Francis

Your previous documentary «Francesco», dedicated to Pope Francis, was also a success and was nominated for an Oscar.

It was very interesting and necessary work for me personally. After all, communication with such a person heals in the truest sense of the word. As for the Pope's reaction to the war, he is very concerned about this tragedy and tries to help as much as he can. Let me give you some examples. The very next day after the invasion, Francis, in violation of all protocols and personal safety precautions, went to the Russian embassy in the Vatican. The pontiff also took an active part in the release of the Azovstal defenders. He personally called Putin to save Ukrainian people, and it was his intervention that organized the humanitarian corridors. He is a true friend of Ukraine. It is also striking that, when dealing with the most difficult problems, Pope Francis demonstrates great humility, wisdom and generosity of spirit. He is a very great man.

Do not let Ukraine be forgotten

In your opinion, was the international community able to prevent this war?

You know, when I was working on a movie about the events on the Maidan in 2013-2014, I clearly realized that this was only the beginning. Russia is historically opposed to a free Ukraine, so it will try to overcome it by all means. Unfortunately, at that time, the world either did not see Putin's military threat or simply did not want to. Therefore, the assistance to Ukraine was several years late, and Russia was given the opportunity to wage a major war. If real help had been provided in the military and political spheres, and Putin was shown that he should not do this, none of this would have happened. As it was, the world had been paying less interest to the topic of the annexation of Crimea and Donbas every year, but the war itself smouldered on and on. Yes, its outbreak on February 24 was a shock, but not so unexpected. After that, I realized that I had a great responsibility to show this tragedy to the Ukrainian people. After all, if the world turns a blind eye to the actions of the Putin regime this time, the wave of war will destroy not only Ukraine but also Europe. 

The Russians have already shelled the same Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant many times, and an explosion at this plant would destroy many countries. This is a shared responsibility of people who can show the horrific truth so that tomorrow is not too late.

You said that you wanted to make this movie as soon as possible. Why?

In my opinion, the war is not only about territory, but also about people's minds. You see how Russian propaganda shows certain events. It kills humanity no worse than missiles. That is why it was important to tell the world the truth about this war as soon as possible.  I clearly understood that in 2-3 months, the events in Ukraine, no matter how tragic, would disappear from the main screens of the world media. We made sure that this did not happen, so that other countries would know about the Ukrainian reality today. I try to convey to people what they cannot see or hear. To build a bridge between mothers who say a prayer over their children so that they wake up alive and healthy tomorrow after another barbaric shelling and mothers who look at their children calmly in a peaceful country many kilometres away from the war.

In your opinion, what should be done to ensure that Ukraine is not forgotten, because this war will not end anytime soon?

Personally, I am trying to get the movie «Freedom on Fire: Ukraine's Struggle for Freedom» into wide release. It is very important that as many people as possible see it, not just diplomats or politicians. I want to stop this war that is taking tens of thousands of lives. That is why I wish only one thing - for the world to see the realities of the war in Ukraine as much as possible, no matter how terrible they are, and to do everything possible to ensure that the Ukrainian people win.



Images: Evhen Afineevsky facebook page


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