Explore a rich complement of narratives developed by Ukrainian writers and filmmakers, as well as a selection of nonfiction titles that shed some light on Ukraine’s complex and fascinating history.
The Battle for Sevastopol: The war catches young Lyudmila Pavlichenko off-guard. She volunteers in the army and is moved to the front line after a brief stint in the sniper school. Her natural skills make her a true sharpshooter. But Lyudmila is severely shot, and her lover is killed in one of the battles. The girl is sent to USA as part of the government mission. In the White House her speech to the press makes her a household name in the states. Two months after her famous speech, the Allies open the Second Front. (Available on hoopla.)
Import/Export: Olga and Paul. Both are looking for work, a new beginning, an existence, life: Olga, who comes from the Eastern part of Europe, where unremitting poverty is the order of the day. Paul, who comes from the Western part, where unemployment means not hunger, but a crisis of meaning and sense of uselessness. Both are struggling to believe in themselves, to find a meaning in life. Import/Export deals with sex and death, living and dying, winners and losers, power, and helplessness, and how to give the teeth of a stuffed fox a professional cleaning job. (Available on Kanopy.)
Maidan: Uprising in Ukraine: Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, Maidan chronicles the civil uprising that toppled the government of Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich and has since developed into an international crisis between Russia and the West. Filmed in stunning long takes, sans commentary, Maidan is a record of a momentous historical event and an extraordinary study of the popular uprising as a social, cultural, and philosophical phenomenon. (Available on Kanopy.)
Man With a Movie Camera: Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera is considered one of the most innovative and influential films of the silent era. This dawn-to-dusk view of the Soviet Union offers a montage of urban Russian life, showing the people of the city at work and at play, and the machines that endlessly whirl to keep the metropolis alive. It was Vertov’s first full-length film, and it employs all the cinematic techniques at the director’s disposal to produce a work that is exhilarating and intellectually brilliant. (Available on Kanopy.)
DVD MR JONES
Mr. Jones: 1933. An ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones, travels to Moscow to uncover the truth behind Stalin’s Soviet propaganda that pushes their “utopia” to the Western world. When he gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, Jones’ life and the lives of his informants are at stake. Based on a true story that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm. (Also available on hoopla and Kanopy.)
My Joy: A truck driver takes a wrong turn and finds himself lost in a bleak Russian underworld, struggling to survive amidst increasingly violent reminders of the country’s dark history. The first fiction film by acclaimed documentarian Sergei Loznitsa, My Joy is a mischievous, ultra-nihilistic parable of post-Communist Russia, shot by master cinematographer Oleg Muto. (Available on Kanopy.)
The Tribe: Sergey, a new student at the boarding school, realizes immediately that he must prove himself worthy to be brought under the protective wing of the school gang’s leader to survive unscathed. After an indoctrination harmless initiation pranks and rites, Sergey’s newfound clique soon introduces him to their common activities of robbery, bribery, and prostitution. At first assimilating seamlessly into his new role in the tribe, he finds himself compromised as he begins to fall in love with his female classmate (and one of the gang’s escorts), triggering a sequence of stunningly diabolical events. (Available on hoopla.)
A Dog’s Heart / Mikhail Bulgakov: When a respected surgeon decides to transplant human body parts into a stray dog, he creates a monster: drunken, profligate, aggressive, and selfish. It seems the worst aspects of the donor have been transplanted as well. As his previously well-regulated home descends into riotous chaos, the doctor realizes he will have to try to reverse the operation; but the dog isn’t so keen. (Available on hoopla.)
The Master and Margarita / Mikhail Bulgakov: Written during the darkest period of Stalin’s repressive reign and a devastating satire of Soviet life, it combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with incident and with historical, imaginary, frightful and wonderful characters. (Also available on hoopla.)
Dead Souls / Nikolai Gogol: Chichikov, an amusing and often confused schemer, buys deceased serfs’ names from landholders’ poll tax lists hoping to mortgage them for profit. (Also available on hoopla.)
RUSSIAN FICTION GOGOL
Peterburgskie Povesti / Nikolai Gogol: Written in the 1830s and early 1840s, these comic stories tackle life behind the cold and elegant façade of the Imperial capital from the viewpoints of various characters. Petersburg Tales paints a critical yet hilarious portrait of a city riddled with pomposity and self-importance, masterfully juxtaposing nineteenth-century realism with madcap surrealism, and combining absurdist farce with biting satire.
The Wine of Solitude / Irene Nemirovsky: Beginning in a fictionalized Kiev, The Wine of Solitude follows the Karol family through the Great War and the Russian Revolution, as the young Hélène grows from a dreamy, unhappy child into a strong-willed young woman. From the hot Kiev summers to the cruel winters of St. Petersburg and eventually to springtime in Paris, the would-be writer Hélène blossoms, despite her mother’s neglect, into a clear-eyed observer of the life around her. Here is a powerful tale of disillusionment: the story of an upbringing that produces a young woman as hard as a diamond, prepared to wreak a shattering revenge on her mother.
Medea and Her Children / Ludmila Ulitskaia: The childless widow of a Russian-Jewish ex-revolutionary, Medea Georgievna Sinopy Mendez is the last remaining pureblooded Greek in a family that has lived on the Crimean coast for centuries and is the heart of a huge family of nieces and nephews who, with their own children, spouses, and friends, gathers each spring and summer at her home.
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible / Peter Pomerantsev: When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook and corrupt cranny of the country. He is brought to smoky rooms for meetings with propaganda gurus running the nerve-center of the Russian media machine, and visits Siberian mafia-towns and the salons of the international super-rich in London and the US. As the Putin regime becomes more aggressive, Pomerantsev finds himself drawn further into the system. (Also available on hoopla.)
Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire / David Remnick: A riveting account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which has become the standard book on the subject. Lenin’s Tomb combines the global vision of the best historical scholarship with the immediacy of eyewitness journalism. Remnick takes us through the tumultuous 75-year period of Communist rule leading up to the collapse and gives us the voices of those who lived through it, from democratic activists to Party members, from anti-Semites to Holocaust survivors, from Gorbachev to Yeltsin to Sakharov.
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets / Svetlana Alexievich: Everyday Russian citizens recount the past thirty years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it’s like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacres—but also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia.
The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia / Masha Gessen: The award-winning Russian-American journalist and author of the best-selling The Man Without a Face traces how within the space of a generation, Russia has succumbed to a more virulent and resistant strain of autocracy as demonstrated by the experiences of four prototype individuals born at the once-presumed dawn of Russian democracy.
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine / Serhii Plokhy: Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine has been shaped by empires that exploited the nation as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. In The Gates of Europe, Plokhy examines Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of major Ukrainian historical figures, from its heroes to its conquerors. As Ukraine once again finds itself at the center of global attention, Plokhy brings its history to vivid life as he connects the nation’s past with its present and future. (Also available on hoopla.)
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine / Anne Applebaum: A revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes, the consequences of which still resonate today, as Russia has placed Ukrainian independence in its sights once more.
The Education of a Young Poet / David Biespiel: Exploring the original source of his creative impulse—a great-grandfather who traveled alone from Ukraine to America in 1910, eventually settling as a rag peddler in the tiny town of Elma, Iowa—through the generations that followed, Biespiel tracks his childhood in Texas and his university days in the northeast, led along by the “pattern and random bursts that make up a life.”
A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka / Lev Golinkin: A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past. In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family’s long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.
ERB: April 2022