On The Ground — In conversation with Alan Badoev: “When bombs hit your country, when your friends die, you can not stand uninvolved. You must be on the light side, where the truth is.”
A week ago marked the fifth month of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Since then, millions of people have been displaced, thousands have died and cities have been completely destroyed. A statisic by Statista shows that since the start of the invasion, around five million Ukrainians have crossed the Polish border as refugees. When sitting in a safe place in Germany, the pain most Ukrainians are going through is unimaginable and unthinkable and the urge to help steadily increasing while the sense of utter helplessness is constantly creeping up on you. Since February, Ukraine has been dominating the news, but five months in, the news cycle is slowly moving on, and other horrible things are making headlines. But doesn’t mean that the war is over. Russia is committing war crimes almost on a daily basis, with unspeakable videos emerging and stories being told, that are so horrible you can’t believe they’re real.
KALTBLUT had a long conversation with the Ukrainian film director and producer Alan Badoev, who is currently working on a documentary film about the war. The documentary features videos sent by ordinary people documenting their experiences, both devastatingly sad and happy. Alan is one of the most well-known filmmakers in Eastern Europe, having directed well 600 music videos.
Alan and I had a chat about his upcoming documentary, the inspiring morale of Ukrainians, and how the country is changing. Before you read the interview, please watch the trailer for Alan’s upcoming documentary. It’s only available in Ukrainian, but the message behind it is pretty clear.
KALTBLUT: Hey Alan, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. How are you? Are you in Ukraine now?
Alan: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you and your audience. It is critical for the world to hear Ukraine not only through political statements, but also to feel the life of Ukrainians as it is.
Yes, I have been in Ukraine all the time, in my beloved city of Kyiv.
KALTBLUT: How is life in Kyiv right now?
Alan: Kyiv remains Kyiv. The only city in the world where I breathe easily. Of course, the war has taken its tolls on us. Fewer people are in the city now, fewer of my friends, and there’s a lot of military personnel.
At the beginning of the war, Kyiv looked like a ghost town. Yet, little by little, it came back to life. Now, when I walk in the morning with my coffee, I see people smiling. I see their anxiety and how they crave life. There is a lot of urban green and flowers in the streets. The city is not broken, it is protected by love!
The city is not broken, it is protected by love!
KALTBLUT: You’re one of the most well-known directors and producers in Eastern Europe, and your feature film “OrangeLove” has been critically acclaimed all over Europe. When and how did you decide to go into the film industry?
Alan: Some things are probably predestined for you. You’re simply born with a built-in love for certain discoveries and actions.
I grew up in a small town in the East of Ukraine. I always dreamed of telling people stories, sharing how I feel about our world. I do it with gusto, no matter the genre of movies, documentaries or musical videos. For me, it is important to open a unique world for the viewer, to help them understand and feel.
By the way, in Horlivka, that’s where I’m originally from, Russian troops are there now. There is a lot of destruction and death. There is terror everywhere.
KALTBLUT:I can’t even imagine what’s going on in your hometown. Are you still in contact with the brave people that have decided to stay? Is there any way of knowing what’s going on in Horlivka and the surrounding areas?
Alan: In Horlivka, Donetsk oblast, I still have many relatives and friends. Many of them can not and do not want to leave their homes, despite the fact it’s very dangerous there.
For me, it’s a very sensitive issue. I know that the war has hit relations in our family so hard. Yet, I do love them so much, all my nearest and dearest, whom I can’t meet or call at the moment. Every night, I say their names, and I really look forward to embracing them tight when Ukraine wins.
KALTBLUT: How do you cope mentally with your country being at war? Do you feel that you’re, in one way or another, forcing yourself to deal with it, or are you in constant stress mode?
Alan: In times of despair, and, yes—despair hits me at certain intervals – I realize that my friends and my children need me. And now I have another important task—the “Dovga Doba” film.
When I watch the videos people send me, I cry, and I laugh at the same time. They make me stronger. When you realize what Ukrainians are going through now, yet they’re remaining human, it inspires you.
When you realize what Ukrainians are going through now, yet they’re remaining human, it inspires you.
KALTBLUT:Recently, Ukraine has been granted EU candidacy. Do you think Ukraine is ready in terms of the values promoted by Europe: equality and supremacy of human rights and freedoms regardless of religious, sexual and other contexts?
Alan: Ukraine has clearly determined its European direction. Properly speaking, today’s war is a war for freedom and for a European Ukraine. Every year my country changes, it is so much easier to breathe in Ukraine than in Russia. It has been that way for a long time.
Ukrainians are used to standing up for their rights and expressing their wishes openly. I believe that European integration is not possible without all those freedoms. You cannot be only halfway in Europe.
This is also true for the LGBTQ+ community. Many people in our country still speculate on this topic, not understanding that there is nothing to discuss. Like it or not, there are different people, and they love differently. You don’t have to judge love, restrict it or permit. Love just exists, like air, and I believe that love will come over. It will prevail even those politicians who build their rhetoric on fears, phobias and ignorance, under the guise of religion or traditions.
All this has no place in a free, progressive society. It’s a shadow of Russian manipulations. I do believe my country will find its way out.
Like it or not, there are different people, and they love differently. You don’t have to judge love, restrict it or permit. Love just exists, like air, and I believe that love will come over.
KALTBLUT: I know there are many people in the Ukrainian military that identify as LGBTQ+, and on the 24th February, they went to defend their country. What are the sentiments on this issue in the society?
Alan: Yes, we already know about many young girls and boys from LGBTQ+ community, at the forefront and among volunteers. I know for sure that there’s much more of them. Plenty of people just hide that fact. These young people do not only defend their country. They defend the right to be who they are inside free Ukraine.
KALTBLUT: You’ve directed well over six hundred music videos. How do you approach a feature film in comparison to a music video? And what would you say are the main differences between both?
Alan: At the time, I started as a director, at the age of 21, there was no film industry in Ukraine. This is why I chose a small genre: I started making music videos. That allowed me to gain practical knowledge quickly and made me a name. Later, I shot my first film, after that, until today, I try to dip my toe into all kinds of directing: from cinema to mass productions. For example, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to create “Hoda Hydnosty” (the Walk of Dignity), on the Independence Day of Ukraine – that was such an honour.
I am in motion. It is important for me to feel the new and follow it.
KALTBLUT: Tell us about the “Walk of Dignity”. What are your best impressions about this project?
Alan: For me, the “Walk of Dignity” became a personal revelation. It was a challenge, allowing me to grasp the mood of the people in my country. It was critical to reveal in the performance what Ukrainians feel. More than a thousand of children took part in the show. They came from the cities that were affected by the war in 2014.
Each scene had its own symbolism, I am very proud of this period, and I am grateful to our president for the trust.
For many months after the parade, people would meet me in the streets and say “thank you”. That is worth all the sleepless nights we have spent with the team.
KALTBLUT: I’ve already mentioned that you’re well established in Eastern Europe, which includes Russia, of course. I imagine you’ve got a big fan and industry base over there as well. In consideration of the war, do you already think about what kind of effects this unprovoked aggression has on your career in the future?
Alan: Yes, for two decades my work has reached the top spots of the charts in the CIS (ex-USSR) countries and Russia. There were times the Top Ten consisted solely of my works. That’s what it was, and that’s a part of my life…
But the war left me no choice. Furthermore, the people, Russians, all the artists I worked with, they all left me no choice…
At first, what I felt was shock, fear, and then…. Heavy disappointment. Cause, in the end, the people I have been creating for turned out to be tame, frightened, even double-tongued people. When bombs hit your country, when your friends die, you can not stand uninvolved. You must be on the light side, where the truth is.
The time of working with Russian artists is over. Those people are not worth my work and the love I need to create. Today I’ve got more global goals and challenges ahead.
KALTBLUT: You’ve teamed up with the Ukrainian channel 1+1 for a documentary created by you called “The Long Day”, for which you’ve asked Ukrainians to send you footage of their experiences since 24th February. Can you tell me a little bit about what made you want to do this documentary?
Alan: For several months of the war, I had been looking for something I could really use to benefit my country, and then I found it. I decided to create a documentary about who we are, how much we love life, about those simple moments you can find in everyone’s phone: children, holidays, sunny mornings and beautiful sunsets… Things that are clear to anyone anywhere in the world.
You need to grasp all these things in order to realize what kind of life the bombs hit. To understand that the building that has been destroyed means, foremost, the ruined lives of the people who have their names, dreams, and goals. I am creating this film with my compatriots, it is about those terrible days that have lasted for eternity.
KALTBLUT: You’ve said this yourself, this war is the first one that’s widely documented because of smartphones and the internet. What kind of story are you aiming to tell in your documentary?
Alan: This is a story about how your wonderful life can be stolen one day! No matter who you are or where you live, your child can be killed by an explosion or a bullet, your wife can be raped, and your husband can merely be executed. This is a visual warning that no one is safe until a dictatorship is ceased to exist and triumph.
This is a visual warning that no one is safe until a dictatorship is ceased to exist and triumph.
KALTBLUT: How do you verify the videos you receive?
Alan: Sure. We use only materials that were individually captured by people on their phones. I do not use materials from public archives.
KALTBLUT: I really like the idea of your documentary and that you’re giving so many Ukrainians a huge platform, however, does it make you sad, in a way, that the other aim of this documentary is to keep the attention on the war?
Alan: The film won’t be ready earlier than in a year. By that time, a lot is going to change, and many things will become clear. The main goal is to show the whole world what the people of my country have experienced and are experiencing. I will do this with love for life, and not for war.
I vote for life! Yet, I don’t want the tragedy of my country to become yesterday’s news. I want every person in the world to realize what the struggle for freedom, for life, for love looks like.
KALTBLUT: Will the documentary be available internationally?
Alan: Absolutely! After all, the idea is to tell the stories of the Ukrainians to everyone who is tired of the news, who doesn’t want to see the headlines, but humanity’s webs of life.
Find out more about Alan’s documentary on the official website here.