10 Ukrainian movies you can watch in English to learn more about the long history of Russian aggression
The history of the Ukrainian fight for freedom and survival of its people is much longer than the three months of the full-scale war. And the genocide in Bucha and Mariupol is not a unique experience for the Ukrainian nation. If you are wondering why Ukrainians are fighting so hard in the current war started by Russia, check out AIN.Capital‘s selection of ten Ukrainian movies to watch in English, so you can learn more about the long-term confrontation between the Russian invaders and the Ukrainian people.
Mr. Jones is a 2019 biographical thriller film directed by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland. It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. The film is based on a true story that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm. It was co-produced by Polish, Ukrainian, and UK teams.
An ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones, travels to Moscow in 1933 to uncover the truth behind Stalin’s Soviet propaganda that pushes their “utopia” to the Western world. Mr. Gareth finds out about the Holodomor, the devastating famine in Ukraine in which millions died. But when he gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, Jones’ life and the lives of his informants are at stake.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
If you want to dive deeper into the events of Holodomor when the Soviet Union committed genocide against the Ukrainian people who resisted collectivization, watch this historical movie. Famine-33 looks at the artificial famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine through the eyes of a single family. It is a 1991 drama film by Oles Yanchuk, based on the novel The Yellow Prince by Vasyl Barka. The film was made on a voluntary basis.
The topic is extremely relevant today while Russian troops attempt to organize a new famine globally by plunging Ukraine — one of the biggest exporters of grains — into the murderous war, and simultaneously trying to destroy the Ukrainian nation again. The terrible task that Stalin failed to accomplish in the 20th century is now inherited by the Putin government.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Guide with English subtitles is a 2014 Ukrainian drama film directed by Oles Sanin. The film is based on true events — that of the repression of the kobzars (blind bards) in Kharkiv in the 1930s. The film also takes place under the background of the Holodomor.
The American engineer Michael Shamrock arrives in Kharkiv with his ten-year-old son, Peter, to help “build socialism.” He falls in love with an actress, Olga, who has another admirer, Commissar Vladimir. Under tragic circumstances, the American is killed, and his son is saved from his pursuers by a blind bard (kobzar). With no other chance to survive in a foreign land, the boy becomes his guide.
Available with English subtitles on Eastern European Movies.
The Russian Woodpecker
One more thrilling event in Ukrainian history is the Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster, which happened during the Soviet times. The Russian Woodpecker is a 2015 documentary film written, co-produced by Ukraine, the UK, and the US, and directed by Chad Gracia. The film won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Thrilling investigation into the ghosts of the Soviet Union and the mind of a Ukrainian artist on a quest to discover the ‘criminal’ behind the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Unforgettably eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich begins his quest by revealing to the world an enormous secret Soviet weapon that stands in the shadow of Chornobyl, but what Fedor discovers is much more sinister. His investigation is interrupted and impacted by the 2014 Euromaidan uprising (The Revolution of Dignity, which you can learn more about from the next movie on our list).
Winter on fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Winter on Fire covers recent historical events in Ukraine. It is a 2015 documentary film about the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine from November 21, 2013, to February 23, 2014. The 2013–2014 Maidan Uprising in Kyiv, a chronological approach to the key events through historical footage and testimonies of two dozen protesters.
The first events described in the movie are the expected trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine, promised as a way to boost Ukraine’s future, but this agreement is suddenly canceled in favor of an agreement with Russia. Pro-European citizens organize protests centered in and around Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square. Four months later, the confrontation between the government, its forces, and increasingly organized and dedicated protesters escalates into barricades, violent clashes, brutal repression, and deadly shootings of the protesters by the police.
Available on Netflix.
And here is the piece that tells us about first Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since the official Declaration of Independence. Donbass is a 2018 internationally co-produced drama film directed by Sergei Loznitsa. It was filmed in Kryvy Rih, 300 km west of Donetsk. At the 49th International Film Festival of India, it received the Best Film: Golden Peacock Award.
The film’s thirteen segments explore the mid-2010s conflict between Ukraine and the Russian-supported Donetsk People’s Republic in the Donbas region of Ukraine. It is a disturbing, prophetic look at division and occupation in the east of Ukraine.
Available on Amazon Prime Video
Bad Roads is a Russian-language Ukrainian drama film directed by Nataliia Vorozhbyt, released in 2020.
Four short stories are set along the roads of Donbas during the war. There are no safe spaces, and no one can make sense of what is going on. Even as they are trapped in the chaos, some manage to wield authority over others. But in this world, where tomorrow may never come, not everyone is defenseless and miserable. Even the most innocent victims may have their turn to take charge.
Available on Sweet.tv with English subtitles.
The Earth Is Blue as an Orange
The Earth Is Blue as an Orange is a 2020 documentary film directed and written by Iryna Tsilyk. It is a joint Ukrainian-Lithuanian project that captures the story of a single mother Anna, and her four children living in a small city in the ‘red zone’ of Donbas, one of the most severely damaged by shelling.
The years 2014–15 were very difficult for this family. They slept in the cellar of their house every night. The house of their closest neighbours was destroyed by a mine. The children’s school was ruined too. Despite all these circumstances, the protagonists remain positive and even try to shoot films about the war by themselves. The war in Ukraine still goes on, but so does life.
Available on Takflix with English subtitles.
Atlantis is a 2019 Ukrainian dystopian postwar film directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych. None of the roles in this movie were played by actors but by veterans, volunteers, and soldiers. One of the main roles was played by Andriy Rymaryk, a former military scout, who went through the War in Donbas and currently works at Come Back Alive, a Ukrainian NGO that helps Ukrainian soldiers through crowdfunding. The movie has stylized scenes shot by thermal camera, one of which is the killing of a captured sniper.
It is a haunting sci-fi drama that envisions a Russian invasion of Ukraine and its aftermath. It describes the events of 2025, when Eastern Ukraine is a desert unsuitable for human habitation, water a dear commodity brought by trucks. A wall is being built on the border. Sergiy, a former soldier having trouble adapting to his new reality, meets Katya while she’s on a humanitarian mission dedicated to exhuming the past. Together, they try to return to some sort of normal life in which they can fall in love again.
Available on AppleTV
Frost is a 2017 drama film directed by Šarūnas Bartas and internationally co-produced by Lithuania, Ukraine, and France.
The film, starring Mantas Janciauskas, Lyja Maknaviciute, Vanessa Paradis, and others, tells the story of a young man from Lithuania who has never experienced war but has grown up in its shadow. Transporting a truck of humanitarian aid from Vilnius to Ukraine, he enters a journey of discovery and sacrifice, crossing borders between countries and between people.
Available on Amazon Prime Video
Ukrainian films are not just about the struggle and fighting. There are many comedies, dramas, and even horror films that have been highly rated by world critics. Next time we will share with you some of the most worthy of them.