How the conflict in Eastern Ukraine separates mothers from their families
On a cold day in 2014, Svetlana woke to a phone call. On the other line was an officer from the front line of the fighting in the East. His tone was sombre, apologising for the news that her son had died. At first Svetlana was dismissive. It couldn’t be her son. He wasn’t in the East, and definitely wasn’t part of the fighting there. But the officer assured her it was him. He had lied to her so he could sign up, and have travelled there when he had told her was going elsewhere. Svetlana’s heart burst, but her woe’s were just beginning.
The officer had to inform her that due to his body falling behind enemy lines, he couldn’t be recovered. In fact, his body couldn’t be found, and that it would be impossible for her to give him a proper funeral. Svetlana was devastated. But she couldn’t just let him rest out there, not her only boy, so she began to search…
Little did she know that her search would bring her to a photo of her beloved son’s remains posted as a war trophy on his enemy’s website.
‘War Mothers’ is a documentary that seeks out the daily truths about women like Svetlana, who are affected by a war that has largely been forgotten by the Western media. Two years ago this crisis erupted in conflict. A conflict that has cost the lives of thousands, and impacted the lives of tens of thousands more. In the film, those impacts are brought out, those dilemmas revealed.
Whilst Svetlana’s story may be saddening, there are many women in her circumstances that have used their trauma for the greater good, and have contributed to the huge volunteer movement that has swept Ukraine. Galina lost her son in 2015 to equally depressing circumstances, but now runs a volunteer hospice for travelling soldiers in Zaporizhia. The film will show the triumph of the human spirit. Amidst war and chaos, good-will prevails.
The film will be in the style of vignettes that delve into the conflict through the eyes of its mothers. This style was chosen not only for its ability to show the vast impact of the conflict on its people, but for the potential to cut down the final production into singular stories. It will be constructed with a linear progression in mind, beginning with a mother who is seeing her son off to fight, a mother whose son is fighting and has fought, and what happens to mother’s in the aftermath of losing their sons.
The conflict gained international attention in 2014 with the Maidan Revolution, and the ousting of former president Victor Yanukovych. From there it reached its peak with the annexing of Crimea, after unmarked soldiers caused instability in the region, and with the deaths of 298 passengers on the infamous flight MH17. The conflict had changed. It was no longer an internal political crisis where a populace lost faith in its government. It was an international matter with much larger stakes, and the world was now watching.
Two years on, and the fighting continues. The volunteer movement is keeping the country together, but they need help. It is incredibly easy for people in Australia to live the life they have, but in Ukraine’s East, they are fighting to keep each other alive. The ‘war mothers’ in the volunteer movement are incredible people, but their story is not being told. I aim to give them a voice that can be heard in places far away that can offer them the assistance they need.
Development on the piece began in early 2016, with a fact finding trip having been completed during the middle part of the year. During this time, the key narratives of the pieces were uncovered.
Stefan on the frontlines of Ukraine (July 2016)
Those stories will be told through a series of vignettes that delve into the conflict through the eyes of its mothers. This style was chosen not only for its ability to show the vast impact of the conflict on its people, but for the potential to cut down the final production into singular stories. It will be constructed with a linear progression in mind, beginning with a mother who is seeing her son off to fight, a mother whose son is fighting and has fought, and what happens to mother’s in the aftermath of losing their sons.
Director/Producer: Stefan Bugryn
Stefan grew up the grandson of Ukrainian migrants in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an active member of the local Ukrainian diaspora from a young age, and is incredibly proud of his heritage.
Since 2012, he has been making various film projects and vowed for every one to be a bigger challenge than the previous. This has seen him go from award winning shorts, to hosting his own film festival (180+ attendees), and now creating War Mothers.
Having followed the situation in Ukraine, he wanted to help in whatever way he could, so he created this project as a way to help those in need with his skills in film.
Producer/Editor: Steven Zelko
Steven grew up the grandson of Yugoslavian migrants who settled in Melbourne in the 1960’s. He was an active member of that community until the Bosnian war in the early 1990’s. A war which cost him the life of his only grandfather. His interest in the documentary stems from a need to understand armed conflict, and the interests the bring it about.
He has been actively making films for the past 15 years, with a long history of documentary-style narrative. He has worked in both fiction and non-fiction, education, music, and drama. And has worked on everything from a family program for the Victorian Government, to a feature film about aliens, to shooting Iron Maiden performing at Rod Laver arena.
His interest in the project begun with his collaboration with the film’s director on previous projects.
Cinematographer: Oleg Krasyuk
Oleg is a native to Ukraine, and lives in Kharkiv. Stefan came across Oleg when he found an unofficial music video he created for a Ukrainain band, ONUKA. He will help give the project a cinematic look and feel.
Post FX/Titling: Rob Polmear
Rob is the Lead Designer of Time Out Australia, and will be coming onboard to contribute the finishing touches on the project. He will bring to the project his personal flair that he utilises on a daily basis for one of Australia’s leading lifestyle publishers.
Example of Rob’s previous work
In early 2016, Stefan finished his first documentary, DRIVEN, a look at the mental strength required to prepare for an elite bodybuilding competition. War Mothers Producer, Steven Zelko was onboard as Creative Producer.
Production still from the documentary ‘Driven’
For an overview of Stefan’s previous work, you can see his showreel:
How The Funds Will Be Used
The overall budget for the production is an estimated $17K AUD. It is broken down broadly as follows:
- Travel Expenses ($3K international, $1K intra-national) – $4K
- Interpreter/Handler fees ($50 per day) – $2K
- Translations/Transcriptions – $1K
- Production Crew Costs – $4K
- Contigency Fund – $1K
- Original Score – $4K
- Festival Submissions – $1K
We have already secured $8K worth of funding from private sources, and a generous contribution from Time Out Australia.
There are inherent risks with travelling to this area, so the crew will need to be accompanied at all times to ensure their safety is not compromised. This includes hiring fixers, translators and drivers wherever they are. They will be travelling across Ukraine to ensure the stories the project are covered, which requires a large amount of logistics both prior to, and during, production. This will be where the majority of the funds will go.