Review: ‘In the Rearview,’ starring Maciek Hamela and Ukrainian refugees

September 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Members of the Lichko family in a scene from “In the Rearview” (Photo courtesy of Affinity Cine and SaNoSi Productions)

“In the Rearview”

Directed by Maciek Hamela

Ukrainian and Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ukraine and in Poland in early 2022, the documentary film “In the Rearview” features a nearly all-white group of people (with one black person) who were affected by the Russian invasion war of Ukraine.

Culture Clash: “In the Rearview” director Maciek Hamela, who is from Poland, documented the van rides that he gave to refugees escaping from Ukraine to Poland.

Culture Audience: “In the Rearview” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about what it was like to evacuate from Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began in 2022.

A scene from “In the Rearview” (Photo courtesy of Affinity Cine and SaNoSi Productions)

The compelling documentary “In the Rearview” offers a glimpse into what some Ukrainian refugees were experiencing during the Russian invasion in 2022, while riding in a rescue van crossing the border into Poland. The film is intimate and sometimes very raw. It’s filmed in cinéma vérité style, in every sense of the word: There are no interviews, no re-enactments and no follow-ups to see what happened to the people in the documentary. “In the Rearview” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“In the Rearview” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maciek Hamela, a Polish citizen who volunteered to drive a van of Ukrainian refugees from Ukraine to Poland when the Russian invasion began in February 2022. About a month after Hamela began doing these rescue missions, he started filming these trips at the end of March 2022. Most of the documentary’s footage shows the passengers inside the van, with the camera facing the passengers. Hamela has said in interviews that all filming was done by human camera operators—not a fixed or hidden camera on a dashboard (also known as a dash cam)—so that the participants knew that they were being filmed at the time.

There are several documentaries that chronicle the horrors of war. In the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, documentaries about this war tend to focus on the people who are stuck or left behind in the war zone, or the documentaries have discussions of the politics that led to this war. “In the Rearview” has a unique perspective, because it’s about the transition period when war refugees know that they are leaving for a safer place, but there’s still a lot of anxiety and fear of what’s ahead.

It goes without saying that the refugees have had to leave almost all of their possessions behind in their abandoned homes. What causes much more agony is that many of the refugees have been involuntarily separated from loved ones or know that their loved ones have died. The people who have been separated from their loved ones often don’t know where their loved ones are. And if they do know where their loved ones are, communication sometimes isn’t possible for long stretches of time, because the war-torn areas often have no electricity or Internet service. Adding to the pain is the fact that some of the refugees need medical help that they won’t be able to get until they’re safely out of Ukraine.

All of these issues weigh heavily on the refugee passengers who are featured in the documentary. They are not identified by name while they are shown in the van. However, the names of the participants are listed in the end credits of “In the Rearview.” Hamela can be heard and briefly seen during these trips, as he has conversations with the people who are temporarily in his care during this terrible time in the refugees’ lives. Unlike some documentarians, Hamela doesn’t want to make himself the center of the attention during filming. He comes across as compassionate, humble and someone who deeply cares about the safety of these refugees.

Many of the passengers who are in the documentary are groups of families. A few of the refugees are traveling alone. Many are deep in thought and don’t say anything. They look like they’re too much in shock to speak. Some of the refugees are talkative, as if they want to unload some of the burdens they’re feeling.

People of many different generations are featured. The children under the age of 8 are often too young to fully understand what’s happening, but they know something is very wrong. In one of the documentary’s segments, a family with three generations of people, including two married grandparents, are in the van. The grandmother says, “We only left because of the kids.” She later gets teary-eyed when she talks about the family’s 9-year-old cow named Beauty that the family had to leave behind.

Another family has brought the family’s 5-month-old cat (a male with black and white fur), and is shown keeping the cat safe by having it tucked into a basket during the evacuation. The wife in the family says she no longer dreams when she sleeps. She says it’s because at night, she is constantly hearing explosions.

During another ride, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s is a pregnant surrogate, who wonders aloud what will happen after she gives birth. The woman who was supposed to raise this unborn child is apparently missing and is possibly dead. The pregnant surrogate, who is accompanied by her own mother during this van ride, seems to want to take her mind off of this dire situation by talking about her goal to one day open a bakery/sweets shop where people can test the pastries before eating.

The hellish experiences of the war are discussed in a few of the conversations. A girl who’s about 13 or 14 years old talks about witnessing a rape that happened as a direct result of the war. During another van ride, a woman in her 30s talks about how her father’s fingers had to be amputated because of injuries he got while trying to rescue her mother.

In a family of five people, identified in the end credits as having the surname Lichko, the family’s stressed-out patriarch Kirill Lichko describes how his house was bombed while his family members were inside. “I don’t know how they survived,” he says of his family members, with a mixture of relief and apprehension. Kirill has a 5-year-old daughter named Sofia Lichko, who is intelligent and polite. The members of this family were able to escape with their identification, so Sofia demonstrates how she was taught to show her ID form if she’s asked to show her ID.

The van is also a makeshift ambulance that doesn’t have medical supplies but is able to accommodate people who are not able to sit up. One of the more memorable refugees in the documentary is an injured college student, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is traveling alone and has injuries that require medical attention, so she is seen lying down in pain as she tells her story.

The Congolese immigrant says she came to Ukraine to study the oil industry and has been living in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the past 10 years. She has a sister who lives in Ternopil, Ukraine, because her sister came to Ukraine to study economics. This Congolese immigrant says the oil industry doesn’t interest her.

She also mentions that during her time in Ukraine, she opened a shop that sold African imports, but the business failed. Despite all of the uncertainty over her future, she is certain that she will come back to live in Ukraine, which she says is like a second homeland for her. She says she will return to Ukraine “when things calm down.”

These rescue trips across the border are also fraught with tension when the van is stopped by soldiers at the border. The documentary doesn’t show anyone being turned away, but you get the feeling that Hamela would’ve just found another way to get the refugees across the border. The evacuations filmed in this documentary happened early enough in the war for the refugees to be let across the border much easier than if they tried to evacuate when things got worse during the war.

“In the Rearview” is very much a no-frills “snapshot” documentary, where viewers are just given glimspses into the lives of the people who are featured. There are a few questions that remain unanswered, such as: “How did Hamela deal with a shortage of gas fuel in the Ukraine?” “Where did he drop off people who had nowhere to go?” “How far was he willing to go to drive people to help them find their missing loved ones?” Although “In the Rearview” does not answer these questions, viewers will have a clear sense of the vulnerable emotions of these refugees who were filmed during a very tumultuous and dangerous time in their lives.

Review: ’20 Days in Mariupol,’ a disturbing but necessary documentary chronicling the first month of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine

July 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Iryna Kalinina (center) with emergency workers and police in “20 Days in Mariupol” (Photo by Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo/PBS Distribution)

“20 Days in Mariupol”

Directed by Mstyslav Chernov

Ukrainian and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Mariupol, Ukraine, from February to March 2022, the documentary film “20 Days in Mariupol” features an all-white group of people who were affected by the Russian invasion war that began that year.

Culture Clash: People who remained in Mariupol during this time were trapped, with their supplies to water, food and electricity cut off, as Russian invaders bombed the city and killed thousands of people.

Culture Audience: “20 Days in Mariupol” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about what happened inside of Mariupol, which was targeted for some of the worst violence, but sensitive viewers should know that the documentary has graphic scenes of people (including children) dying during medical care.

People at a shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, in “20 Days in Mariupol” (Photo by Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo/PBS Distribution)

Brutal, harrowing and courageous, “20 Days in Mariupol” is one of the most important documentaries of the year. It’s a disturbing but necessary chronicle of the death, pain and resilience of Ukrainian people under attack by Russia invaders in 2022. “20 Days in Mariupol” which was filmed cinéma vérité style, does not gloss over the horrors of this war, beginning when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. However, “20 Days in Mariupol” has enough sensitivity not to show the faces of the people who died in front of the cameras or the faces of the dead people whose bodies were strewn in various locations.

Directed and narrated by Ukrainian video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, “20 Days in Mariupol,” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the audience award for World Cinema Documentary—one of several awards that this documentary has won. The 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service went to members of the “20 Days in Mariupol” team, including Chernov, still photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko and correspondent Lori Hinnant. “20 Days in Mariupol” is the feature-length directorial debut of Chernov, who works for the non-profit news company Associated Press, which helped fund the making of this documentary. Jordan Dykstra’s musical score and Michelle Mizner’s editing express the sense of urgency and dread that can be felt throughout the movie.

As the documentary’s title describes, “20 Days in Mariupol” takes viewers inside the war zone for the first 20 days of the invasion. Chernov, who was accompanied by Maloletka, had the choice to flee the increasingly under-siege Ukraine, which is a choice that many other journalists did during this period of time. However, Chernov (who is from Kharkiv, Ukraine) and his team not only decided to stay, but they also went to Mariupol, which they suspected would one of the main targets of the Russian invaders.

Chernov says in voiceover narration at the beginning of the documentary: “When we realized the invasion was imminent, we decided to go to Mariupol. We were sure it would be one of the main targets. But we could never imagine the scale, and that the whole country would be under attack.” The first day of the documentary’s 20-day chronicle began on February 24, 2022. Chernov says in the documentary that about one hour after he and his crew arrived in Mariupol, the city was under a bomb attack.

Before the Russian invasion, Mariupol’s population consisted of nearly 426,000 people in January 2022. After the war, Mariupol’s population decreased to less than 100,000 people. (Both statistics were provided by the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine.) Most of the people who left Mariupol evacuated, but a still-unclear number of people died in Mariupol, as well as in many other parts of Ukraine.

In “20 Days in Mariupol,” Chernov makes a voiceover comment that has become one of his most quoted comments of the movie: “Someone once told me, ‘Wars don’t start with explosions. They start with silence.'” This documentary serves as a collective voice of the people who suffered through these traumas and those who didn’t live to tell their stories. Throughout the documentary, various Ukrainian people tell Chernov and his crew they want what’s happening to be filmed so that the world can see the atrocities and suffering, or they hope that the footage will be seen by loved ones who are wondering who’s still alive.

Some of the video footage and still photos seen in “20 Days in Mariupol” were used by news outlets such as Associated Press, which syndicates content to other media outlets. After the original footage is shown in the documentary, some of it is shown as news clips that got televised by several media outlets, such as CBS News, ITV and MSNBC. One of the more memorable news clips that Chernov and his team had that was shown around the world was an infuriated and frustrated doctor, who had just witnessed a 4-year-old girl die from bomb injuries on a medical table, despite his and his medical team’s best efforts to save her. The doctor says to the camera, “Show this [Russian president Vladimir] Putin bastard the eyes of this child!”

Part of the documentary explains how Chernov sometimes had to travel miles to find the nearest working electrical outlet, in order to send the footage. When cell phone service wasn’t available, Chernov and his team had to communicate by satellite phone. Chernov says in the documentary that he worried about his own daughters, who had to be evacuated.

Food, water, and electricity became scarce. Internet service was cut off. Russian soldiers blocked the borders. After a certain period of time, even if people wanted to escape from Mariupol, they couldn’t because they were trapped in a hellish war zone. The way that Chernov and his team escaped is detailed toward the end of the documentary.

Not everyone was grateful to see journalists in their midst. During one of the early days of filming, when people were still able to evacuate from Mariupol, an angry middle-aged man, who is in the midst of evacuating, walks past the documentary crew and snarls, “Fuck you, prostitutes!” A middle-aged woman, who is distraught over having to flee from her home, refuses to say her name when she’s asked, and she very openly express her disgust that cameras are filming her. In another part of the movie, Ukrainian soldiers defensively tell the camera crew not to film them.

Chernov says in a voiceover: “I understand their anger. Their country is being attacked. It’s our country too. And we have to tell its story.” Almost everyone shown in the movie is not identified by name. They don’t have to be, because the powerful message of this documentary is that what happened to the people of Ukraine in 2022 can happen to almost anyone in the world whose country is ruthlessly invaded by outside forces.

The most heartbreaking aspects of “20 Days in Mariupol” are the death scenes. Some people, including children, are shown dying while receiving medical treatment in overcrowded, understaffed emergency centers that are running dangerously low on medicine. Their loved ones’ anguished reactions to these deaths will be burned into the memories of people who watch “20 Days in Mariupol.”

In addition, there are scenes of bodies being dumped into makeshift, unmarked mass graves. One of the men who is tasked with this awful and unwanted activity says he can’t talk about what it feels like because he knows he will start crying. The gravediggers and body disposal people wear masks, but you can see in their eyes that the masks can’t filter out the overwhelming stench of death and decomposition.

Countless people who’ve lost their homes are seen wandering around in a daze, crying out in anguish, or huddling in fear and uncertainty in shelters. Some are involuntarily separated from loved ones, while others already know that some of their loved ones are dead. A girl who’s about 5 or 6 years old who’s in a shelter tearfully says of this living nightmare: “I don’t want to die. I want it to end soon.” At a shelter that used to be a sports/athletic center, mirrors are taped over to lessen the impact in case a bomb shatters the glass.

Even though Chernov says in the documentary that he and his team did not stay in one location for too long, the documentary gives a few updates on people he met or saw during this ordeal. Early in the documentary, after the bombing started, some people (including Chernov) mistakenly believed that civilians wouldn’t be attacked. A middle-aged woman is seen wailing on a street because she says her son hasn’t come home from work.

The woman is afraid to go back to her house because she thinks it will be bombed. Chernov tries to comfort the woman and tells her it would be best for her to go back home, in case her son will look for her there. Chernov assures her that it will be safer for her to be at home instead of walking around outside.

“I was wrong,” Chernov says bluntly in a voiceover. Bombs ended up destroying the neighborhood where the woman lived. Later, Chernov sees the woman at a shelter and says in a voiceover that he was relieved that she was still alive and that he told her he was sorry for his error in judgment. Chernov says he was surprised at how forgiving she was. (The documentary doesn’t say if this woman ever reunited with her son.)

A particularly gut-wrenching part of “20 Days in Mariupol” is how it shows the evacuation of a maternity ward. Some of the vulnerable, pregnant women are in labor. A 32-year-old pregnant woman named Iryna Kalinina, who has been severely injured, is one of the expectant mothers who is rushed out of the maternity ward to a location that’s not equipped to handle childbirths. What happened to her is later revealed in the documentary.

As time goes on, the death rate rises, and survivors get more desperate. People start looting stores, although some of the stolen items, such as electronics, will eventually become useless when electricity is virtually cut off in Mariupol. A store owner named Natasha, who appears to be in her 30s, yells at people who are openly stealing things from her general merchandise store, which has already been destroyed by bomb damage. Anyone with enough life experience can see that it’s not the loss of material things that’s upsetting her but the fact that her entire life has been turned upside down.

In the voiceover narration, Chernov (who has many years of experience as a war correspondent) says a doctor once told him: “War is like an X-ray” that can expose who people really are inside. “Good people become better. Bad people become worse.” Amid all the madness and mayhem, there is still plenty of kindness and generosity shown in this movie. These examples include the heroes who try to save people lives; survivors who share food, shelter, and other resources with strangers; and even the people who didn’t abandon their pets and kept them during this hellish experience.

“20 Days in Mariupol” is a documentary that won’t be forgotten by anyone who sees it, and it should not be overlooked by anyone who cares about humanity. Director/narrator Chernov gives an unflinchingly honest viewpoint that is specific yet universal. Although “20 Days in Mariupol” shows many people in moments of despair, none of it is exploitative. “20 Days in Mariupol” is not only a vital history lesson but it is also an urgent reminder that although damage done by war cannot be erased, compassion for others is not defined by national boundaries.

PBS Distribution released “20 Days in Mariupol” in New York City on July 14, 2023. The movie will be released in Los Angeles and San Francisco on July 21, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cities in subsequent weeks. The PBS series “Frontline” will televise the documentary on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Rule of Two Walls,’ starring Lyana Mytsko, Stepan Burban, Diana Berg, Bob Basset, Kinder Album, Bohdana Davydiuk and Iryna Hirna

June 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lyana Mytsko and Stepan Burban in “Rule of Two Walls” (Photo courtesy of New City/Old City)

“Rule of Two Walls”

Directed by David Gutnik

Ukrainian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ukraine from April to November 2022, the documentary film “Rule of Two Walls” features an all-white group of people who were affected by the Russian invasion war that began that year.

Culture Clash: Several artists show resistance to the Russian invasion in various ways as their lives remain in danger.

Culture Audience: “Rule of Two Walls” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about the horrors of the Ukrainian war from an artist perspective.

Lyana Mytsko in “Rule of Two Walls” (Photo courtesy of New City/Old City)

Harrowing and inspiring, the documentary “Rule of Two Walls” sometimes gets unfocused in its cinéma vérité style of showing how some Ukrainian artists responded to and were affected by the war that began in 2022. It’s still very insightful filmmaking. “Rule of Two Walls” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by David Gutnik, “Rule of Two Walls” was originally going to be about Ukrainian refugees in Poland, according to Gutnik’s statement in the “Rule of Two Walls” production notes. He adds, “But by the time I crossed the border into Ukraine, it was clear to me that I was going to make a film about Ukrainians who stayed.” Gutnik is American, but he says most of his family members are from Ukraine.

“Rule of Two Walls” (which was filmed in Ukraine from April to November 2022) opens with a seemingly idyllic scene of two live-in lovers in their 30s waking up together in bed at their home in Kharkiv, in April 2022. They are artist Lyana Mytsko and musician Stepan Burban, who are featured prominently in the movie. Stepan says his gall bladder hurts. Lyana jokes that Stepan must be getting old, “Little Stepanko, 95 years old.”

But this domestic bliss soon gets a harsh reality check, because the Russian invasion war on Ukraine had begun in February 2022. Mytsko comments that in these times, it’s important that the couple’s “windows haven’t been blown out yet.” Later, Mytsko (who describes herself as an “activist” and a “feminist”) is the director of the Lviv Municipal Arts Center, which features some of her own artwork. The fate of the arts center is in jeopardy because of the war. The National Art Museum of Ukraine is also featured in the documentary.

Throughout “Rule of Two Walls,” artists are shown talking about how their lives and their art have been affected by the war. Burban performs industrial rock music and is the lead singer of his band. He begins writing more protest songs. Burban is shown performing with his band to an enthusiastic crowd of mostly young people who are angry about the war.

Photography artist Bob Basset shows his collection of photos of people wearing gas masks. Two young women are shown putting up a handmade poster that reads, “We are not afraid of you, Russia. We hid our monument because we don’t want you to see our shame.” In the documentary, Mytsko explains that since the war began, what she expresses in her art is “to regain some control over all this crazy shit.” Bohdana Davydiuk and Iryna Hirna are two other Ukrainian artists featured in the documentary.

A female artist, who did not want her face shown on camera, seems to have a specialty in painting nude people. The movie’s end credits identify her as Kinder Album. She shows the paintings she made of real horrors of war that she witnessed.

One of her more disturbing paintings shows a naked woman kneeling, with her hands tied behind her back. She is surrounded by standing soldiers, who are seen from the neck down. One of the soldiers has his pants down, as if he is about to rape or just raped the woman. Another painting shows a woman cleaning a large pool of blood on a street.

The overall sentiment of the Ukrainian artists interviewed in the documentary is one of defiance in refusing to let Russia erase or take over their land, their lives and their culture. Art curator/manager Diana Berg, who is also an artist, comments in the documentary: “No war can deprive us of our culture and traditions. When [Russian president Vladimir] Putin says we [Ukrainians] have no culture, we have no nation.” She adds sarcastically, “Does that mean everything we create is Russian?”

Sensitive viewers should be warned that “Rule of Two Walls” also has several scenes of murdered bodies (most are human and some are animals) on streets. In one scene, bodies that were set on fire are seen with smoke still coming out of the ashen remains. It’s a jolting but necessary look at the tragedies and incalculable loss of lives during this terrible war.

Not all of the imagery and subject matter in “Rule of Two Walls” are completely depressing. Mytsko tells a heartwarming story of how people teamed up to rescue a cat that happened to be fairly well-known in the area because of the cat’s Instagram following. It seems that fame has privileges, even for animals in a war. An unidentified man talks about bringing food and other aid from Lviv to Kyiv. He had to send his wife and son away, for their own safety.

Gotnik has a “no frills” approach to this film and only inserts himself into the movie in the last third of the documentary, when he briefly shows himself on camera and talks about how all of his bank accounts have been frozen (he suspects the Russian government is behind it), so he is temporarily stuck in Ukraine. “Rule of Two Walls” sometimes has a rambling tone that occasionally makes the movie look disjointed and in need of tighter film editing. However, the documentary succeeds in its intention to juxtapose the damage of the war with the resilience and vibrant spirit of the Ukrainian people.

Review: ‘Sniper: The White Raven’ starring Aldoshyn Pavlo

September 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aldoshyn Pavlo in “Sniper: The White Raven” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Sniper: The White Raven”

Directed by Marian Bushan

Ukrainian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Donbas region of the Ukraine from 2014 to 2022, the dramatic film “Sniper: The White Raven,” which is based on real events, features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After his pregnant wife is murdered by invading Russian soldiers, a former pacifist Mykola Voronin joins a paramilitary group, where he becomes an expert sniper fighting against invading Russians.

Culture Audience: “Sniper: The White Raven” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in seeing war movies that are set in the Ukraine, but this movie quickly becomes tedious and formulaic.

Aldoshyn Pavlo (pictured at far left) in “Sniper: The White Raven” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

There’s no other way to say it: “Sniper: The White Raven,” which takes place Ukraine’s Donbas conflict from 2014 to 2022, is one of the dullest war movies you’ll ever see. The movie becomes cliché-ridden, with acting as hollow and action as trite as anything in a shoddy video game. “Sniper: The White Raven” is based on the real-life story of Ukrainian sniper Mykola Voronin, whose life is a lot more interesting that what this snoozefest of a movie portrays.

Directed by Marian Bushan (who co-wrote the “Sniper: White Raven” screenplay with Voronin), “Sniper: The White Raven” starts out promising when it shows Mykola Voronenko (played by Aldoshyn Pavlo), before his life was turned upside down by a horrific tragedy. In the beginning of the movie, it’s 2014 in the Ukraine region of Donbas. Mykola is a physics teacher and ecologist who is living a lifestyle that’s very different from his peers: Mykola and his wife Nastya (played by Maryna Koshkina) have decided to live in a solar-energy house in an isolated field. Mykola and Nastya call themselves “eco settlers”: people who live off of the land in fully sustainable lifestyles, without using any fuel or electricity.

This lifestyle is unusual enough that Mykola and Nastya are interviewed about it on the local news. Mykola comments on his eco settler lifestyle: “We have a chance to save the planet and save ourselves.” Nastya is pregnant with the couple’s first child. In a TV interview, Mykola and Nastya say that they plan to raise their child in this eco settler lifestyle. Mykola gets some teasing about his lifestyle from some of his work colleagues, who think he’s a little weird. Mykola is also a staunch pacifist when this story begins.

“Sniper: The White Raven” gets its title from a scene early in the movie, when Mykola talks about an ancient legend about a white raven. The raven created the world out of darkness, by waving its wings. The world was a black ocean with a shore that soon became inhabited by people. The raven felt pity for the humans and turned the ocean’s salt water into fresh water and food. But in return, the raven had to sacrifice its white feathers.

Trouble is brewing in the Ukraine in 2014. Mykola sees a TV news report that Vicktor Yanukovych, who was Ukraine’s president since 2010, refused to sign an agreeement with the European Union that would “set a course for improving relations with Russia.” Yanukobyen exited his commander-in-chief position, leaving Ukraine vulnerable to a Russian invasion. It’s a fate that happened to Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded and then annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.

When the Russians invade Ukraine, it hits Mykola in one of the most brutal ways possible. He races home on his bicycle to find two Russian soldiers who are holding Nastya hostage on the property. The invaders physically assault Mykola and Nastya, who beg for Nastya to spared, in order to save the life of their unborn child. The soldiers ignore their pleas, shoot Nastya dead, and then burn the couple’s home to the ground.

One of the soldiers also takes an illustration of a white raven in the home and burns it. This movie is not subtle at all with its heavy-handed symbolism. Mykola manages to escape this home invasion, but he is the taken by two local men to join a paramilitary group that is fighting the invading Russians. Needless to say, an embittered and angry Mykola is no longer a pacifist. He now has one goal in life, when it comes to invading Russians: “I want to drive them out of our land.”

The rest of “Sniper: The White Raven” is a tedious slog of Mykola training as a sniper and going into combat zones. This former pacifist suddenly has an extraordinary ability to use guns. His super-skills are shown in such a quick period of time, these skills look too good to be true and exaggerated for a movie. For example, soon after joining this paramilitary group, Mykola (who now goes by the name Private Raven) assembles a gun blindfolded in just 18 seconds, during one of his early training sessions.

The problem with “Sniper: The White Raven” is that after a while, all of the characters (including Mykola) are presented as killing machines, with no sense of real camaraderie between these paramilitary soldiers. Not everyone makes it out alive, but the actors in this movie’s cast aren’t convincing enough that the surviving soldiers feel any genuine loss about their fallen comrades. Expect to see a lot of dragged-out scenes of snipers just lying in wait, with their guns ready to aim, but no real action happening.

Mykola predictably has a brigade commander (played by Roman Semysal), who becomes his mentor. The brigade commander is so generic, “Sniper: White Raven” never even bothered to give this character a name. By the end of this forgettable film, you probably won’t remember much about any of the supporting characters. And when a war combat movie doesn’t make the people in combat worth remembering, that’s always a sign of a lousy war movie.

Well Go USA released “Sniper: The White Raven” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 1, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 13, 2022.

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