Friday, July 14, 2023

Eastern Front, on

They are a bit like Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, but the war is happening in their own country. For them, volunteering as a medics and ambulance drivers was the only way they could serve during the war. Many started in the Donbass region as early as 2014 and they continued to serve following Putin’s full invasion, despite some being judged “unfit” for armed combat (due to health reasons). Medic Yevhen Titarenko captures a country that is remarkably unified, despite being under constant fire in Eastern Front, his eye-witness documentary (completed with the editorial input of “co-director” Vitaliy Mansky, the acclaimed documentarian exiled to Latvia), which premieres today on

You will definitely see some things driving an ambulance around Kherson and Kharkiv. That is why Titarenko started documenting the horrors he witnessed, employing hand-held devices, smart phones, and body cams. Much of what he captured is horrifying. Yet, some of the quiet moments are even more telling.

In between their emergency calls, Titarenko and his fellow medics, relax, chew the fat, and even celebrate being alive together. Many have similar stories, especially those who hail from families with strong Russian connections. At first, they were the odd ones out for supporting the Maidan protests. However, after Putin’s illegal invasion, their parents and grandparents have become ardent Ukrainian patriots. Their anecdotal evidence suggest Putin has ironically unified the supposedly fractious Ukrainians—against Russia.

Eastern Front
is a powerful and bracing film. However, it might unfairly suffer in comparison if seen soon after Mstyslav Chernov’s jaw-droppingly harrowing 20 Days in Mariupol. Yet, it has other merits, very definitely including the medics’ thoughts on Ukrainian unity and Russian propaganda. Nevertheless, Titarenko’s concluding dash through a war-zone can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Normandy landing in Saving Private Ryan.

Eastern Front, Titarenko and his colleagues face constant gunfire and artillery bombardment. The Putin regime has issued an arrest warrant for Mansky, so the Ukrainian-born Russian filmmaker definitely has some skin in the game. Presumably, his skillful eye for incorporating archival and primary sources (as demonstrated in Putin’s Witnesses) was also helpful.

Just like Chernov’s film,
Eastern Front records Russian war crimes, during and after the fact. It also expresses the resiliency of the Ukrainian national character, at times of crisis, which is equally important. Very highly recommended, Eastern Front starts streaming today (7/14) on