It’s been a little more than two years after the Revolution of Dignity took place in Ukraine in 2014 and I'm still having a hard time processing and digesting it. Those events were so spontaneous, chaotic, and swift that a lot of effort is required in order to explain its multifaceted complexity. Obviously, to be able to do that one should have some records that are unbiased and reliable. In this regard, Damian Kolodiy’s documentary “Freedom or Death” exemplifies a great source of information that is both trustworthy and accessible for various audiences.
As Damian puts it, it was his mission as an American of Ukrainian descent to adequately convey the message of the revolution to his people in the US and to resist the Russian propaganda that was gaining momentum at the time. Setting off to Ukraine in the winter of 2014, he happened to witness the most decisive and tragic three days that took more than seventy lives. Paradoxically, being on the ground right in the middle of the revolution does not guarantee accurate treatment of the information one gleans in a critical situation. On the contrary, it exposes one to different influences and opinions. In this respect, I find it even more worthy of respect that Damian has managed to overcome these multiple influences, committing himself to the most relevant, important and unbiased sources.
Of vital significance is not only the content of the documentary, but also the spirit it captures and the sensibilities expressed by its subjects. It is a common tendency that those who observed or participated in the revolution tend to take it intimately and deeply personal to the extent of being reluctant to share their experience with others, preferring to keep a small piece of revolution in their hearts. Obviously, many people lost their beloved ones and it is simply difficult to talk about such things. Damian, therefore, did a very emotionally challenging and stressful job in transmitting this mood of tragedy and loss and engaging the spectator in this sympathetic and meditative state.
The documentary “Freedom or Death” aims to be accessible for different audiences through the simplicity and straightforwardness of its message. Interviewing people on the streets, Damian shows that those are the same people with the same problems and demands as in any other country. Talking about universal values such as justice, rule of law, human rights and dignity, people of all ages and occupations manifest their adherence to rational master narratives that are understandable and acceptable for the entire global community. This unification on the basis of common values, rather than language or ethnicity, constructs an image of a socially mature community in opposition to a corrupt, infantile, and backward government. I think Damian has managed to pinpoint and thematize this distinction in his film.
Although the film provides little analytical argumentation, it still serves as a platform to provoke and stimulate further discussion. Certainly, those events should not be forgotten and Damian, in my opinion, did a wonderful job elucidating and preserving this important part of Ukrainian history. However painful and tragic those events were, we have no right to forget it and Damian’s film is always there to remind us of Ukrainian people's sacrifice.
Mariia Shynkarenko is from Kyiv, Ukraine but is currently based in New York for the second year of her PhD program in Politics at The New School. Her interests include social movements and theory of revolutions, and she is currently working on the non-violent civil resistance movement of the Crimean Tatar people. She introduced Damian Kolodiy at HUSI's screening of the documentary on Thursday, July 7, 2016, and is taking the subject courses during this year's summer program.