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Kruty 1918: History of Ukrainian pain, told in spirit of Soviet propaganda

Author : Olena Holubeva

Ukraine shot the movie telling the story of the Battle of Kruty for the first time
18:00, 8 February 2019

Ukrainian movie Kruty 1918
Open source

The Battle of Kruty has been staged for the big screen - for the first time in Ukraine. It's been one of the most important cinema projects, a well-funded one. The Head of the State Cinema Agency Pylyp Illyenko was present at the premiere in Kyiv; he never denied or tried to hide the fact that the movie was filmed not as a high-grossing film, but more like a film that 'is almost a hundred years late'. The team got just exactly what they did: it's something driven by formalism and formaline, which is typical for everything they do in this fashion. The history teachers who don't need to be persuaded about the value of Ukrainian nationalist ideas, will most likely love the film. A history teacher, who thanked the produiction team at a press conference, might not have a slightest idea of how precisely she had described the situation: 'The details don't matter. The key thing is the film that I can finally show to my students'...

Kruty 1918 is based on the real events of the fight that took place next to Kruty station, northern Ukraine, in the freezing winter of 1918. The Bolsheviks were advancing on their path to Kyiv, and a handful of volunteer students stepped in to protect the young Ukrainian People's Republic, which the world was ready to recognize by that time. The 18-19-year-old youngsters had their first combat experience in the battle of Kruty, and they managed to repel the assault of the Bolsheviks armed to the teeth for several days straight. The talented Ukrainian actor Vitaliy Saliy portrayed Mikhail Muravyov, the former officer of the Imperial Army who sided with the Reds - and led the assault in that battle.

Ukrainian movie Kruty 1918
Open source

At that, the production team of Kruty 1918 noted that it is, above all, a motion picture, not the re-enactment of true historical events. Despite the presence of living historical figures (Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Symon Petliura, Averkiy Honcharenko, Mikhail Muravyov and his chief Vladimir Antonov-Ovsienko), the official press release says that the majority of these heroes are a 'collective image'. This is the ground for deployment of the characters who build the plot. The list includes double agent Berg, Ukrainian General Savitsky, and the main characters - Andriy and Oleksiy, Savitsky's two own sons. Andriy was portrayed by Yevhen Lamakh, one of the most promising Ukrainian actors. So, the idea of the production team is that Andriy is a student, the map-maker-to-be. He is a pacifist who refuses to shed a drop of blood - even if it's the enemy blood. He tells his friends that the fact that his father and brother serve with the military does just enough. However, there's also a prototype of the real-life character in this film. It's Hryhoriy Pypsky, a humble and silent student of a gymnasium who performed in a church choir - which is why they called him The Alto. The production team assumes it was him who sang the future national anthem of Ukraine in front of the Bolshevik bayonets.

So, all main heroes, Andriy, Oleksiy, Pypsky met in snowed Kyiv at Sofiyivska Square. These guys will also be in the platoon near Kruty (Valerik – Oleksandr Piskunov, Volodia – Maksym Donetsk, student Kolyunka – Mykola Perestyuk). In the same place, a viewer acquaints for the first time with Sofia, a girl, in whom both brothers Savitsky are in love. She is flirting in a conversation with Andriy: “where else can I be, than Sofiyivska Square”. Sofia is at Sofiyivska Square. The friends listen to the speech of Head of the Ukrainian Central Council Mykhailo Hrushevsky (Serhiy Dzialyk). He urges to stand up for Ukrainian People’s Republic. Symon Petlyura appears on the podium to deliver a speech. Dmytro Stupka played him in “Kruty:1918” and it is worthy to note that after film “Secret Diary of Symon Petlyura”, in which he is depicted as delicate and quietly unconvincing intellectual, Stupka succeeded to rehabilitate his figure. At least, after his speech, there is no question how Petlyura could lead thousands of the Ukrainians. The friends of Andriy also enter the list of volunteers after the speech of Petlyura. All of this reminds Maidan, during which guys entered the self-defense ranks and went to the east to fight against Russia. However, Andriy remain faithful to his pacifistic belief. He joined friends later. But the reason, which encourages him to take up arms, hardly can be the driving motivation for someone in the real life.

Ukrainian movie Kruty 1918
Open source

However, the obvious iconization, which is counter by demonization, is much worse than obvious implausibility and excessive theatricality of particular scenes. There are no ideas that we are all people and all of us are sinners: only black vs. white, good vs. bad. There is no hint of nobility or good human features in the images of Berg and Muravyov: they are despicable, depraved, in a word, bad as bourgeois, who tortured Kibalchish in the famous work of the red propaganda. Even plastoons will appear at the side of good in the film. In the best tradition, so to speak.

General Savitsky, the father of Pypsky (Yevhen Nishchuk), sister (daughter of director of the movie – Masha Shaparyova) are exclusively positive and great characters. The scene of the visit of The Alto by father and Marichka in the barrack is so icky, that mouth is clumped. They pass a scarf, which bears one of the main roles and meaning in the film, to a guy. A fair sotnyk (he held the military training) is not less icky; exactly he harshly suppresses derision of fellow-students over Pypsky due to the scarf. Actually, it is unclear why the same sotnyk tried to discourage Andriy after the fight in his searches of the friends. He persuades him: there are victims in the war.

Ukrainian movie Kruty 1918
Open source

The characters of Bolsheviks in the movie are disputable. It happened due to the ideological beliefs of the Director Olexiy Shaparev (he made some great works like animated series Esquimau, comedy Kyiv Cake, dramatic series The Fight Rules). The Director decided to avoid personification except from Muravyov, Berga and Antonov-Ovsiyebko so that the role of the negative characters is not overstated. At some point, you might think that there is nobody in an armored train, which reflects a dirty arrack of the red on Kyiv, except from these three and a couple of stokers… It looks like the capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic is going to defend against a single armored train, where a perverted and self-confident addict rampages. The feeling of implausibility is enhanced after an episode where Muravyov without any help takes students captive on Kruty station…

Those who believe that the heroes of Kruty died in an uphill battle with weapons in their hands might be surprised that the filmmakers chose the episode where Bolsheviks execute disarmed guys for the end of the movie. Despite the fact that a little evidence about those events, history lovers say that the version with the execution is actually close to historical truth. At the same time, the execution scene in Kruty 1918 was made in such a way that at the moment you suppose to cry, you ask yourself: good gosh, is it a theatre or a circus? The viewers find out about tortures only from the titles (it is well known that Bolsheviks were severely torturing the guys). Bolsheviks are kind in Kruty 1918, they did not even took away sweets, and that important scarf.

The romantic line in the movie looks unconvincing as well. Relationships between Sophia and Andriy are more friendly, than romantic. Not a single hint for passion. Erotic scenes and kisses are not presented in the movie. Andriy and Sophia are completely alone in their apartment, the lights go out… and this is all the romance. Olexiy wants to propose to Sophia, but he did not take out the ring.

There are many questions about the movie itself, the sequence of events and their motivation. It is a bit unclear who and how captured the arsenal of the Bolsheviks and whether the main characters have something to do with it. It is not clear how Andriy, who was earlier with his friends, appears in the train (taking the surviving Ukrainian defenders to the rear), where did the horse he found in the woods come from... It is not clear how he does not get to his comrades, and instead turns out at the station ... where he meets his brother. Throughout the year, while the film was preparing for running, cinematic couloirs rumored that they the film was filmed in the way they cannot assemble it. Shaparev did not deny that there were certain editing problems, but assured that this was a common phenomenon inherent to many projects.

The worst thing is that, despite all the delicacies, the value of the heroic act by Kruty fighters remains outside the frame. There is no answer to the question: what was the meaning of their sacrifice? What did this give Ukrainian People’s Republic? What was significant about the fact that these boys held back the Bolshevik offensive? And most importantly, we will not hear the answers to one of the most acute questions of the Ukrainian nation, which captured Berg poses in the film. He will ask the Ukrainian general Savitsky, the father of Oleksa and Andriy: what is the point of sacrificing so much for a "nation that never existed"? And he does not hear the answer...

In general, the picture is beautiful: exemplary scenery, historical reconstruction of the elements of the old interior, perfect costumes and cool camera work. The real pleasure - some scenes with talented actors. There are elements of action, as in Matrix, and spectacular clips. Actually, you get a real pleasure from the movie, if you do not take into account frank propaganda issues, and perceive the film as a collection of cool videos with a wonderful sound.

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