Ukraine, a Testimony of What I Did Not Film

The director Filip Remunda describes the circumstances under which he was createing his new film, shot in Ukraine, in a rather unconventional fashion.

Instead of deliberating on methods or inspirational sources regarding the new piece from the television series Czech Journal, he shares short stories in which he describes moments he did not manage to film.

Nalevajka

Mikhail, friend, journalist from Dnepropetrovsk, wanted to show us something we had never seen in our lives. In front of a huge smouldering coke production plant, on the periphery of the city, there is a bar. During the day, it is empty. Its time to shine is when the factory gates open and the workers stream out of there heading home. Most of them head straight to Nalevajka, which is similar perhaps to the Žižkov Briketa (Briquette) at the time of its greatest glory. In no time, there is a queue leading from the bar far out of the door. Buddies from the coke plant buy bottles of vodka at the bar, always a litre for three, four people. Some vanish and head for the train right away, others sit down at a box table with their alcohol purchase. The litre disappears in a few minutes on average and a new group sits down at the table. Mikhail tells us that the factory belongs to a Russian oligarch, salaries in it are less than 100 dollars a month and that inside no safety regulations are being met. Workers, therefore, breathe toxic air, and acid rain is destroying the surroundings. Many locals are worried that the European Union would ban all of it and that people would lose even this badly paid job. When we went to ask the bartender if we could film, she categorically refused. I sent Mikhail over to her to offer a bribe. The alarmed bartender then came over to us and instead began offering us money so that we wouldn’t even pull out our cameras.    The entire bar is said to be filled with people with troubled fates and filming would not end well for her establishment or for us. We could see that Michail understood the gravity of the situation and was shaking. Around us, there were labourers from the factory, streams of vodka flowing and an eerie silence spread throughout the bar. Nalevajka is a different kind of pub compared to what we are familiar with here or in England. In Nalevajka it is not customary to talk loudly, let alone laugh. You rest after work in Nalevajka.

Eurosmile

In Kharkov, which lies just a few kilometres from the Russian border, we wanted to shoot with the local separatists. We had a meeting with them on Freedom Square, formerly known as Lenin square. That day we did not have a car and we trudged around town with all our equipment on foot. Cameraman Martin Tokár and sound engineer Michal Gábor were so tired that they fell soundly asleep in the shadow of Lenin's statue. Young separatists, whose declared aim was the annexation of Eastern Ukraine to the Russian Federation, told me about their reasons. Among the first arguments they made, was that they wanted to live in the Russian world, as the European one was fake, just like our Eurosmile. One of them said he had worked in Germany and could not understand why the people there smile at each other as they do not know one another and therefore cannot feel any sort of bond. In return, I said that in Russia I was mostly met with sour-faced shop assistants and it was nearly impossible to run into someone who was smiling.

The youths said that it has to be so because the Russian lack of smiles is at least honest. They then started to take pictures of us on their phones and got a good laugh out of the fact that the Czech TV crew was sleeping in the square in broad daylight instead of dutifully shooting a documentary film. In the end, they were offended and left. Only later I realized that I should have at least promptly whipped out my phone and filmed the absurd spectacle as reportage. After this curious incident, I started to do so...

Hitler and Švejk in a bar

In Kiev, in the district Podol, lies a private club. It's called Bacteria. It has no signboard. It hides in a yard and is protected by a steel door latch. You can only get in on the recommendation of regulars. In Prague or Berlin, this place would be run by squatters, punks, anarchists, or at least city-bio-gardeners. In Kiev, the opposite is true. Most guests sympathize with the extreme nationalist Right wing. It struck me as strange that the bartender had COMBAT 44 written on his shirt in Schwabacher font, which is readily worn by Nazis in Europe. When I asked about the slogan, most guests downplayed the whole thing. They said it’s supposed to be ironic. The Russian propaganda had called them fascists for such a long time that they themselves started to make fun of it. They deliberately exaggerate. "You wanted fascists and Bandera followers, here they are for you!" Then someone, probably one of the establishment managers, rolled up his sleeve and showed me that he has a tattoo of Švejk on his forearm. Later, one person who only spoke English with us made an argument about his hairstyle. A person with dreadlocks can in no way be a Nazi. When I was leaving, the bartender caught up with me and wanted to make a confession. He said that he saw this shirt as a reference to Mein Kampf, supposedly in the fourth paragraph on page 4 a lot is written about the love for a nation and that was what he liked to borrow from Hitler. The next day we were welcomed as "those who are interested in a shirt". There were posters parodying war propaganda on the wall. I learned that when the well-known Russian situationist Petr Pavlensky was in town he visited Bacteria as a completely trustworthy place.


Translated by Floriana Skorulska