Friday, June 7, 2019

New Film on Donbass War May Affect How Many Russians View that Conflict

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – In Russia as in many countries, most people without direct experience of a military conflict come to view it not via TV news or government propaganda at the time but as a result of novels and films. Americans, for example, view World War II more via movies like “The Longest Day” or “Saving Private Ryan” than from any official history.

            Russians are no exception to this pattern, and that makes any film Russian producers release about Moscow’s war in the Donbass important, given that there is a near certainty that viewers will select out of it elements different than even those who produced it may want to communicate.

The classic example of this, of course, is a television show the Soviet government broadcast in 1986. Called “The Man from Fifth Avenue,” it was intended to show just how difficult life was for homeless people in New York, but viewers focused not on the homeless man but on the windows of the stores he passed and how much was in them,

            In five days, such a film will be publicly released across Russia.  Dmitry Steshin, a Komsomolskaya pravda correspondent who has worked in southeastern Ukraine since March 2014 when the Russian invasion began has had the chance to view it in advance and provides an advance review (

                He suggests that “Donbass. The Border Region” is “the first real, ‘adult’ film about the events of 2014,” one that reflects the complexities of that conflict in a more serious way than the various books and songs that have appeared before even if many Ukrainian viewers choose to interpret it as anti-Ukrainian because it focuses on the Russian side. 

            Renat Davletyarov, the director of the film, says that any honest treatment of those events requires that both the pluses and minuses of the situation be included, something that makes a film like this potentially more threatening to the Kremlin’s black and white version of events than even Ukrainian reporting to the contrary.

            It will thus be quite interesting to see how Russians do react, what they will select out of it, and how that will shape their views about this war. It is almost certain that their conclusions won’t be as neat and clear as the Kremlin would like – and that will have consequences even if many will view the film as a “pro-Moscow” production.

            Since Lenin, Russians have recognized the power of film to define how people view things. And the leadership in Russia today is certainly aware of this not only with regard to this film on the war in the Donbass but in another case that could have equally important consequences in redefining how Russians view Kremlin policies and actions.

            Some Russians are pushing for making a film on the role of the Russian “private military companies” in Africa and especially what led to the death of three journalists from the Russian Federation. Indeed, a scenario for a documentary film on this has already been prepared (

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