Evgeny Afineevsky: "Each one of us is a drop of water, together we are an ocean"

EESC info: You started working on Ukraine some years ago with the Oscar-nominated film "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom", and now you are back with a new film, "Freedom on Fire: Ukraine's fight for freedom". Is this part II of that story?

Evgeny Afineevsky: "Winter on Fire" was a campaign for peace. In February 2022, I felt the urgency as a filmmaker to go back to that story and show the continuity with today's war. So I wouldn't say that "Freedom on fire" is a sequel. What it does is connect the dots all the way from Maidan to where we are now. You see, this war has been going on for eight years. It is a fight for dignity, for freedom and for human rights.

What pushed you to make that first film about Ukraine?

I would say it was Maidan and discovering the bravery of the Ukrainian people. They stood for their rights, their beliefs. They stood for an independent future for Ukraine as a united country belonging to the family of free European nations. This is what I witnessed and what led me to pick up that story again last year and continue the saga.

Is there any particularly memorable story from your experience with Ukrainians on the ground that you would like to share with us?

There are so many. But there is one I tell when I hear people say we cannot change history. When I was in Maidan, in that cold winter of 2013-2014, there was a poster with a big drop of water, saying: "Each one of us is a drop of water, together we are an ocean". I saw the Ukrainian people unite together, showing the government that they had the voice, the power and the will to change their history as a nation - and doing it. In 93 days, people from different social groups, rich and poor, young and old, achieved their goals by acting together and respecting one another. I think what is important these days is to be united.

What would you expect from the EU and from European countries and civil society to help Ukrainians in this war?

The EU means unity, unification. I think now is the time to stop a third world war breaking out. The sooner we admit this, the sooner the world will be united. Ukrainians are not asking people from other countries to come and fight, but to help them win this war. And this is a beautiful thing - the world, all of us rallying around Ukraine to stop this war.

You dedicated this film to journalists who "are risking their lives today". How important are reporters and activists in wartime?

I made this statement in my first movie and I keep repeating it, as I have worked with journalists on the ground and some of them are no longer with us. Statistics show that journalists, Ukrainian filmmakers and reporters died in the early months of the war, which were the cruellest. However, this war is not being fought only on the ground, but also in the media. Propaganda is the main weapon: "take a lie, pick it up, repeat it over and over and it becomes the truth", going back to Joseph Goebbels' playbook.

Russia's aggression against Ukraine is literally on Europe's doorstep, with a heavy impact on European countries. What about the US? How have people reacted there? Has there been any mobilisation by NGOs and civil society organisations?

The American government is helping as much as they can, but here, in Hollywood, there is not much talk of Ukraine. Some networks are still covering the war but not mainstream media. NGOs have been on the ground from the beginning helping people, but society at large is on a different wavelength and this is the reality of the war. We are focused on many other things and for me, as a filmmaker, it is painful to see that there is a lack of political movies. It seems that Hollywood is trying to abstract itself from political situations. But at the end of the day, if a nuclear plant is hit in Ukraine there will be a price to pay for us all.

You also directed "Cries from Syria" in 2017, another film dedicated to war and conflict. What prompted you to make that documentary? Did you succeed in drawing attention to this tragedy?

With "Cries from Syria", I tried to shine a light on what happened in Syria from the beginning to the huge refugee crisis through my storytelling. Many of the people in "Cries from Syria" are now dead. It is the same with the films on Ukraine. I tried to explain to the world that it was not a local conflict but a war. I also tried to connect activists and volunteers, but most importantly, I tried to connect journalists with the journalist on the frontline who plays the lead in the film. In my latest movie, I showed the most important thing - the media war - as I spent a lot of time in cities and the media sphere showing what propaganda is. I guess I want to tell the important stories of our day and enable those who are living them to have their voices heard loud and clear, to educate the world and send out a call to action. For me, each movie is a triple A: advocacy, activism and action.

Do you feel that you have achieved your goals with your films?

Yes, I do! I think that this is what pushes me to carry on. I have seen the difference my movies have made, inspiring political action. I have seen how people have changed after seeing my movies on Syria and Ukraine. During Q&A sessions, people always ask: "Please tell us, how can we help? What can we do?". This is the question that I hear almost every time. It is indeed inspiring and it makes me feel great.

What is your next project going to be? Do you have anything in mind?

No, not right now. First we need to stop this war. Because if this war grows big tomorrow, there will be no need for filmmakers, there will be no Hollywood anymore. Only united can we win this hybrid war, on the ground in Ukraine and in the media, because propaganda and lies can easily cross the EU's or the USA's borders, they do not need a visa. They travel freely and this is what everyone keeps forgetting in Hollywood, in America, all around the world.

Watch the trailer for "Freedom on Fire".
Learn more about the movie here.