There is so much political turmoil going on the world that to narrow it down to one distinct event is difficult. But in the case of director Evgeny Afineevsky, his ability to focus on more of an isolated event, but one that has a long history with Ukraine’s relationship with its location at the crossroads between Russia and the rest of Europe, is a enlightening and more personal. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is full of information and intriguing enough as its told from the perspective of several bystanders and protest participators.
In 2013, President Viktor F. Yanukovich strengthened ties with Russia and halted the signing of an agreement for Ukraine to join the European Union. Upset and disappointed with him, many anti-Yanukovich took to the streets to peacefully protest and convince Yanukovich and the remainder of their government to join the “civilized world”. The protest took place in Maidan Square and lasted several months, many citizens refusing to leave until their demands were met. The Bertka? police began to get more violent the longer the protest lasted, even though none of the protestors threatened or used weaponry. After many months, hundreds of death, and resilient passion, Yanukovich was pressured to resign and the Ukraine signed an agreement to become part of the European Union, but tensions unfortunately don’t just dissipate.
Winter on Fire is distinctly the people’s film. Without using experts or political consultants to put in their two cents, Afineevsky relies solely on the participants to relay their stories, their recollection of the events, and their feelings about the entire situation. The documentary is told chronologically, allowing for the tension to build from the first moments of the protest, to the final day before disbursing. Afineevsky doesn’t bother to talk to Yanukovich or any other members of the government for their take on the story, which is honestly fine because it would have taken away from the main story. So the bias, which is prevalent in all films, is called for.
One of the detriments to the film, however, is because this protest takes place over several months, there are several instances where you feel like a silent bystander, just waiting around for something to happen. And so it drags a bit here and there, Afineevsky struggling to keep your attention. However, this slow build also leads to a more emotionally impactful finale, the tension tightening its coil until something finally snaps. Winter on Fire isn’t a perfect documentary, but it is a perfect example of the power of the people can bring about change when they rally to overthrow a president who doesn’t serve their best interests.