By James Imam
BERLIN (Reuters) – Ukrainian medical volunteers weave through a forest on the eastern front of the war with Russia, trying to treat maimed soldiers as enemy shells rain down.
In the scene from the documentary “Eastern Front,” the paramedics carry stretchers bearing screaming troops into an ambulance, before hurtling along cratered roads en route to the nearest medical unit.
“I think people usually get some romantic ideas about war from the books, from movies,” Yevhen Titarenko, a Ukrainian filmmaker who co-directed the film, told Reuters. “Everyone must now see this war with their own eyes to understand.”
The film premieres at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday, the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, celebrating the resilience of the Ukrainian people while providing a grisly portrait of the devastation of war.
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, casting the war as a “special military operation” to protect Russia’s own security.
Titarenko, who has served in a medical volunteer battalion for the past year, shot some of the scenes from his first-person perspective near cities including Kharkiv and Kherson.
Lviv-born filmmaker Vitaly Mansky co-directed the film with Titarenko, providing additional scenes recorded in Western Ukraine.
“The message is not to give anybody the chance to think they can hide from this war,” Mansky said. “This war is an absolute reality.”
The two directors counterpose images of destruction – the charred remains of an apartment block, a herd of cows sinking in a field destroyed by bombing – with everyday scenes of companionship and love.
The film includes rough-hewn war footage recorded with handheld devices alongside panoramas of rolling fields basking in the rays of dawn or submerged in fog.
“I wanted to show that the war is not a natural state for the heroes,” Mansky said. “Their natural state is peace, family comfort, their parents’ homes, the Carpathian Mountains.”
In the film, medics chat and joke by a lake filled with swimmers on a sunny day. One of their sons is baptised in a church amid plumes of incense and the sounds of Orthodox chant.
Titarenko said that after presenting the film at the festival he would return to the frontline.
“I am a paramedic and I just shoot what I see,” he said. “The most practical advice is to try and avoid getting wounded and stay alive.”
(Reporting by James Imam and Zuzanna Szymańska in Berlin; Editing by Matthew Lewis)