From Hong Kong to Beirut, as Inspired by Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

While the overview of Winter On Fire is not to be wholly discredited, it does present the world with a whitewashed version of Ukraine’s Maidan uprising.

(Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom)
(Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom / Netflix)

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Netflix production that was screened among some of the protesters’ circles. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom documents the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014. The documentary has won prestigious awards such as the Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, along with 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature nomination. Protesters around the world, including the most recent Hong Kong protests, are said to have drawn inspiration from this documentary.

The revolution was a student-led demonstration in 2014 that went on for more than three months and led to the downfall of the President, Viktor Yanukovych. The protests were triggered in response to the refusal of the president to sign a trade agreement with the EU in an effort to pull Ukraine further into the Russian orbit and away from Europe.  

Although largely described as peaceful civil rights movement against police brutality, the Western version of the documentary masks or rather fails to acknowledge the crucial role of neo-Nazis, who played a decisive factor in the revolution. 

Had it not been for the armed far-right groups, the protesters are believed to have never been able to bring down the president let alone realize their demands. Far right groups involved in the fighting were largely equipped to face police brutality that would’ve otherwise crushed the protesters.

Despite the “inspiring documentary” being a Western import, its skewed version of reality doesn’t stem from the fact that is a Western production, as several Western media outlets have detailed the role of the far right in the Ukraine revolution, including the BBC, The Guardian and Reuters.

Obscuring the involvement of the far right raises questions about the authenticity of this documentary as it is being used worldwide as a model for successful revolutions, which could be highly misleading. I believe Lebanon ought to have its own model without having to draw inspiration from an imported version of a rather flawed revolution. 

Even if we were to draw inspirations from successful revolutions, we should fact check the political background against which revolutions take place before we attempt to measure ourselves up to them. 

The US involvement and the publicized tours of senior US government officials to the barricades in Maidan Square the center of the revolution were briefly touched upon in the documentary. It dissipates some of the fallacies built around this work, which portrayed the revolution as an all-peaceful protest that realized its demands through peaceful means.

The alternative viewpoint is that an estimated 22 million Ukrainians were anti-Maidan protest. Avoiding the dark side of the protest by erasing what doesn’t look neat and clean doesn’t serve history any justice, nor does it present a credible account of history, so that people all around the world can learn from or get inspired by.

The documentary was regarded as a whitewashed version of the Maidan revolution, portrayed as a movement constituted by ordinary citizens from all walks of life while masking the role of the far right and how they benefited from playing a key role in the protests. Their involvement in ousting the government should not be overplayed, nor should it be downplayed given the key ministerial roles the far right assumed in the new Euromaidan led government.

In the aftermath of the Ukranian revolution, an armed conflict broke out between pro-Russian separatists and the government, claiming the lives of around 13,000 and wounding as many as 30,000. The Annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine were some of the facts briefly mentioned at the very end of the documentary.

“A FILMMAKER, NOT A JOURNALIST,” is what the director is quoted as saying when pressed on some of the controversial events in the film. The overview of the film is not to be wholly discredited. Instead, one must be very critical of what presents itself to be an inspirational factual lineup of events regarding revolutions in the West, as portrayed through the lens of Western productions.