Photos courtesy of the crew
Words by Stefan Bugryn

Edits by PSQ

8min read

Director: Stefan Bugryn
Producers: Steven Zelko, Stefan Bugryn, Eddie Diamandi
Editor: Steven Zelko
Original Music: Tom Day
Director of Photography: Oleg Krasyuk
Sand Animations: Natalia Tarnay
Sound Mix: David Williams

How I went from an office in Melbourne to the war zone in Ukraine

In 2016, I was working a comfortable career in advertising in Melbourne, Australia. Things were not out of the ordinary. One day, I came across a particular news article and my life changed.

Having grown up in the local Ukrainian community, I would follow the news of Ukraine, and the sad stories that would come out in the media on a daily basis. I would speak to my colleagues and friends and sadly most people didn’t even know there was still a war raging.

My indignation grew everyday. Every story I read built something in me until one day I found one I couldn’t ignore.

Posted on a press website was the story was of a mother by the name of Svitlana Chorna-Tereschenko from Cherkasy, who enrolled into the Ukrainian army after her son died in the battle for Donetsk Airport. I read the tagline ‘War Mothers’.

I had never known there to be such a thing and the term ‘War Mothers’ stuck with me and made way for this idea.

I approached a local producer Steven Zelko, told him about Svitlana, and discussed with him the idea of filming a documentary about mothers in Ukraine who were affected by the conflict.

In March, I quit my job, left my life behind, and made an initial trip in June to meet with the mothers of Zaporizhia. I met with soldiers, volunteers, mothers, priests, everyone who was involved with the war effort. Because of my Ukrainian descent, everyone took me in like family. They made me feel like I was one of them. The bond I had felt was incredibly strong from the outset.

On this trip I found the three mothers who would become subjects of our film.

Galina – Head of the main volunteer centre in Zaporizhia, Prival. Her son passed away in 2014 on the frontline, and in her sadness she decided to join the volunteer movement, and established one of Ukraine’s biggest volunteer centres. She makes constant visits to the frontline to send supplies to the soldiers.

Yulia – Initially one of the founding members of the volunteer movement in Zaporizhia, Yulia felt like she wasn’t doing enough to help her country, and later became a sniper on the frontline. She has a son and daughter who await her permanent return once the conflict ends.

Svetlana – Mother of a son who sadly passed in 2014, she went through an arduous journey to retrieve her son’s body, which involved traumatic negotiations with the separatist forces.

After returning to Australia to raise funds (we successfully received $18,000 AUD), I returned to Zaporizhia in October to live with Galina and the volunteers at the Prival, and produce the film with a Ukrainian crew.

For 3 months, I travelled from Lviv, Dnipro, Kyiv, Zaporizhia, Mariupol, and all through ATO, and met with countless women to ask how the war had affected them. I heard stories about women whose sons had died in horrific ways. I met mothers whose sons were prisoners of war. I met mothers whose sons have gone missing. I met mothers whose sons were risking their lives everyday. I met mother’s who themselves were risking their lives everyday. I met mothers who could not speak of their sorrows. I met mothers who were dying for people to listen to their sorrows. For 3 months, I lived the sorrow of Ukraine.

For someone who mostly worked in offices in Melbourne, this was an incredibly daunting experience. On one occasion, visiting the frontline in June, one soldier pointed to the hills and said:

‘Only around 600m away, the enemies have their guns pointed at us’.

I spent more time with the volunteers than the soldiers, and I began to learn their way of life. Around the end of 2016, there was a fatigue that I could see amongst some of the people. The war was reaching its third year, and the number of volunteers was slowly dropping. Despite this, the passion and patriotism behind these people was incredible.

On one occasion, I was in the common room of the Prival, with an older mother volunteer preparing a meal for the staying soldiers. Whilst we were chatting, I asked her, ‘why are you a volunteer?’ She stopped what she was doing, looked me right in the eye, and bluntly told me, ‘when my grandchildren are older and they ask me where I was during the war, I want to be able to tell them I was here, helping the soldiers, helping Ukraine win the battle’.

I’ve since returned to Australia and have completed the first installment, which we’re submitting to film festivals and distributors around the world. We’re currently seeking funding for the second installment, which is a collection of stories of mothers in Lviv.

If you want to find out more about the project, follow the official Facebook page HERE

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