A Rising Fury‘s strongest footage is cinéma vérité
A Rising Fury is cinéma vérité in its most striking footage of events captured in Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. The documentary A Rising Fury brings together first-hand accounts of battles and evacuations before Russia invaded Kyiv in February 2022. A Tribeca Film Festival film, it currently screens on Tribeca at Home.
Directed by Lesya Kalynska, who also wrote and produced the film along with director and producer Ruslan Batytskyi, the film begins with shots of the bombed-out Donetsk Airport. At that point in 2015, pro-Russian separatists already occupied Crimea and were fighting Ukrainians for control of cities in the East. Following various Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression, the cameras focus on Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Pavliv and his girlfriend Svetlana Karabut. Increasingly, A Rising Fury uses the couple’s perspectives and comments as an anchor.
The filmmakers show footage of events in Eastern Ukraine where Pavlo Pavliv lived when he was a teenager. Using extensive flashbacks and archival footage, they reveal information that highlights Vladimir Putin’s intentions to destroy Ukraine as a republic, which were made clear only six years after Putin took power in Russia. Cobbling together flashbacks of student protests and footage of Ukrainians fighting during the 2013 Maidan Revolution as a backdrop, the film reveals Pavlo Pavliv’s story.
It begins with his military training sessions with a man 20 years his senior who mentored him. In 2007 Pavliv joined the Strikeball Club headed up by Igor, a Ukrainian with military experience. The useful operations that he learned in the game allowed him to defend and help others escape being killed during the 2013 Maidan Revolution.
Clips of Senator John McCain with protestors
With the Maidan peaceful protest, Ukrainians asserted their right to join the EU and completely break from Russian influence. Amazingly, we see Senator John McCain in Kyiv at that time. Clips show the Republican proclaiming that America stands with Ukraine in its assertion of independence. McCain suggests that Putin is attempting to control the nation through its leader Viktor Yanukovych and that McCain’s support for Ukraine is intended to help defy the Russian leader.
It was obvious to Ukrainians that Putin controlled Yanukovych. Students and citizens joined in calling for Yanukovych to resign after his decision not to pursue membership in the European Union. As the protests grew into a spirited revolutionary celebration, Yanukovych’s government attacked the protestors. Cinéma vérité footage shows special forces beating and shooting protestors. Yanukovych’s attack units killed over 50 innocent citizens and dragged away others. The film includes voiceovers of Ukrainians during the fighting and burning of Kyiv. Those interviewed assert Ukrainian independence and affirm they will die rather than submit to Putin’s dictates.
The filmmakers effectively if briefly recount the history of Russia’s oppression of Ukraine. Over footage of the funerals of those who died during the Maidan protests and shots of celebrations of Ukraine’s independence from the U.S.S.R., we hear Ukrainian activists speak. Pavliv is chief among these voices.
Russia’s historical oppression of Ukraine
These individuals reference Russia’s history of oppression, explaining that after the Russian Revolution and World War I, Leninists prevented Ukraine’s independence. They also reference Stalin’s extermination effort against the Ukrainian people during Holodomor, the great starvation. They intimate that like oppressors before him, Putin won’t stop. Still they affirm their independence.
Pavliv relates the revelations of his mentor Igor and the Strikeball Club. Under Igor’s mentorship and guidance, Ukrainian 20-somethings created the finest Strikeball team of gaming fighters. Igor taught them military techniques and weaponry. Indeed, the members of the club formed a powerful, tightly knit community.
Strangely, during the Maidan, Igor didn’t commit to fighting for Ukraine. This surprised Pavliv. Then, as pro-Russian separatists began to fight in Eastern Ukraine and Pavliv helped to evacuate families from the region, Igor contacted him. He suggested Pavliv join his old Strikeball team as a pro-Russian separatist to fight against Ukraine. With charm Igor used his bonds of friendship to offer him “crazy” money and a position as Captain of his own fighting unit. In exchange, Pavliv would kill Ukrainians and help take over Eastern Ukraine as a Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist.
Putin’s long-range invasion plans
Researching Igor, Pavliv discovers that his mentor and friend is an FSB (Russian military intelligence) agent. Now he understands Igor’s motives in undermining Ukrainian resolve and dismissing Pavliv’s loyalty to Ukraine during the Maidan. Igor cultivated his team of young Ukrainians, disguising himself as a Ukrainian. Purposely, he worked to strengthen their minds and spirits to bond as a fighting unit. While Igor was one of a number of Russian agents working hard to create Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists to betray Ukraine.
This long-range plan, put into motion in 2007 with the Strikeball Club, came to fruition after the invasion of Crimea. Pavliv reveals as a lie Putin’s insistence that Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists wanted their area of Ukraine to return to the Russian Federation. But the plan worked well enough that young Ukrainians from Strikeball clubs, cultivated by agents like Igor, would work to betray their country. In return for friendship, money and power given by FSB agents, young Ukrainians identify to this day as Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists. Essentially, Putin created this Ukrainian civil war to keep Ukraine Russian.
Under the banner of a lie, Putin’s Ukrainian fighting force of traitors today undermine their own country and kill their own people. How? Brainwashing, money, power, camaraderie.
The truth breaks Pavliv’s heart
When Pavliv realizes the truth it breaks his heart. Igor warned Pavliv that Yanukovych’s security forces would attack and overcome protestors. Indeed, Pavliv remembers how Igor stayed away during the Maidan. It was then that Igor’s FSB units worked with Yanukovych’s security forces. However, Pavliv defended the Maidan, one of the few in the Strikeball team who did.
Ironically, neither Yanukovych, Putin nor the FSB understood the stalwart will of Ukrainians to die for freedom and independence. For Pavliv to accept that Igor had duped him took courage and sustained pain. As Pavliv’s girlfriend Svetlana suggests, this evil tactic of the FSB manifested in how Igor used friendship, love and camaraderie. That is the FSB’s and Putin’s way. Hired to enact Putin’s long-range plan to annihilate Ukraine and bring it under his dictatorship once more, Igor succeeded with many of Pavliv’s Strikeball teammates. But Igor failed with Pavliv and a few others willing to die for Ukraine.
Supporting their research on Igor’s identity, the filmmakers turn up proof of his former job in the Russian Federation Communist Party as a KGB agent. They blow wide open the Russian plan to lure young Ukrainians to their side. However, the truth of their co-optation and cultivation of Ukrainians to be pro-Russian separatists and kill their own remains hidden. Through Pavliv’s testimony, filmmakers blow the whistle on one of Putin’s greatest lies and reveal the depth of Putin’s lust for Ukraine.
Pavliv lost his buddies to Putin’s war. Behind Igor, Yanukovych and other global officials and leaders, Putin pays well to create traitors and compromats. Unlike Pavliv, most of his former Strikeball Club team stayed together to kill Ukrainians.
Blowing the Whistle on Putin’s Lies
The filmmakers reveal the Ukrainians’ will to thwart Putin and die for their country. The film also shows how Putin uses co-optation as a method to subvert integrity, loyalty and patriotism. Indeed, Putin’s attempt to co-op uber-right wing conservative parties in the U.S., Hungary, Turkey and other countries to subvert their democracies abides today. Russian FSB double agents and ringleader Putin’s use co-optation techniques, emotions, friendships, love, bonding, money and power remains the linchpin of this important must-see film. Currently, A Rising Fury screens on Tribeca at Home.