Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Culver City ’16: Women of Maidan

Their ranks included Ruslana Lyzhychko, the first Ukrainian Eurovision song contest winner, and babushkas from the provinces. Women disproportionately answered the call during Ukraine’s Maidan Square protests, because they found the Russian-backed regime’s use of force against peacefully demonstrating students simply unacceptable. According to Putin and the gullible media, they were also largely neo-Nazi nationalists. Of course, that was a libelous lie, as viewers can easily discern when watching Olha Onyshko’s Women of Maidan (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Culver City Film Festival.

In retrospect, unleashing the paramilitary Berkut forces on orderly protesting students in November of 2013 was the Yanukovych Gang’s biggest mistake. It unleashed a sleeping giant: Ukraine’s mothers and grandmothers, who quickly filled the square to protect the nation’s “children.” Like many of the demonstrators, Onyshko arrived soon after the first brutal attack and quickly settled in for a long siege.

It is amazing how thoroughly the Euromaidan protests have been covered by documentarians, yet Putin’s disinformation campaign has still been so insidiously successful. If it were really an expression of anti-Semitic nationalism, one would think there would be signs peeking through Onyshko’s footage or that of Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire, or Andrew Tkach’s Generation Maidan, or Sergei Loznitsa’s observationally immersive Maidan, but that just was not the case. However, probably no previous doc (except perhaps Dmitriy Khavin’s post-Maidan Quiet in Odessa) so thoroughly discredits such slander as Women of Maidan.

Onyshko talks to a wide cross-section of the women at the Square, none of whom come across as ideologues of any stripe. In case after case, they are simply moved by a desire to see a better future for younger generations. They are fed up with Yanukovych’s corruption and deeply skeptical of his chumminess with Putin—especially those who lost family members during the Holomodor, Stalin’s deliberate terror famine.

Women of Maidan is a necessary corrective to lingering Russian propaganda and an inspiring chronicle of a concerted grassroots campaign to protect Ukrainians’ constitutional rights. Unfortunately, Onyshko probably overstates her case when she heralds the Revolution of Dignity as a victory for humanistic matriarchal values over patriarchal oppression. Alas, Putin remains firmly committed to patriarchy and nobody seems to have a plan to deal with him. Regardless, it remains a film of great merit and journalistic integrity. Running an easily manageable sixty-six-minutes, Women of Maidan is very highly recommended for general viewers as well as feminists and foreign policy hawks alike, when it screens this Saturday (12/3), at the Culver City Film Festival.