Have you seen since filming Ukrainian soldiers fighting Moscow-backed separatists?
I am in contact with them on a regular basis; Unfortunately, some have died, as the fighting has taken on an unprecedented scale and on an even greater scale in the past two months. They fight day and night 24 hours a day, and it’s a safe bet that more will die in the coming months. The 30th brigade of Ukrainian soldiers, which I follow in my film, is still in the same trench, the same position in the Donbass.
Is it true that you came up with the idea for this documentary when you were imprisoned in Turkey in 2017, and you were sentenced to 25 years in prison for filming a report on the Iraqi-Turkish border?
There are direct links between what I experienced as a prisoner and in the trenches in the Donbass. In the trenches we experience a “psychological prison”. Soldiers cannot get out of it, they are bound for periods of two to three years. Confusion, lethargy, enclosed space, this existential question about the meaning of life: I found many things I went through in prison. When I went to this ditch, in 2018, to do some exploring, I saw that this place was also a prison, echoing what I went through.
From meal to shaving, through the maintenance of arms and mutual trust, it reveals a daily life not limited to grapes and rain of shells…
This is the essence of the world of trenches, the space that fighters build themselves, using axes. And the idea of immunizing the living environment, learning to live there … and sometimes they die there. There is this contradiction between recreating normalcy in order to survive and facing death on a daily basis. This is what I wanted to show.
Impact of the war on the economy
“This woman was happy to have confidence in her place in the trench, for war is first and foremost the prerogative of a man.”
As a reference to World War I…
At 14-18, we imagined the fight was always and going on. Indeed, the writings of the furry people explain their desire to return “normality” in a world that is not at all normal. It was important for them to try to have a daily life, meals at fixed times, occupations, etc. I found it with Ukrainian soldiers. The causes and effects are roughly the same a century later.
We meet a fighter named Anatolyevna. The only woman among men?
When I discovered this brigade, in 2018, I met this woman, one of 1,000 combat soldiers. It struck me and it was important to recount his life in the trenches. She has her own life, intimacy issues, etc. It’s hard enough for her, knowing that she’s failed at housework, and treating soldiers’ illnesses, when that’s not necessarily her role. At first, it was difficult to form a relationship with her, but she was happy to trust her place in this masculine world. War is above all a world of men.
How did you manage to accept the fighters?
It all started with a connection to a young engineer who joined the Ukrainian army in 2014. Having passed the various levels, he was appointed a commander with whom I was in constant contact; He became a close friend. Thanks to him I was able to live for 4 months in this trench controlled by this 30th Brigade of the Ukrainian Army. Having been introduced by a commander, the Ukrainian soldiers felt close to me, in the sense that I am not a stranger. Together, we experienced the same things, the same risks. This creates very strong bonds, because you are risking your life the same way. We feel a strong intimacy that we feel in the movie.
“There are direct links between what I lived as a prisoner and in the trenches in the Donbass.” Pictures of alchemists.
“Vladimir Putin never wanted to end the conflict in Donbass, because he set his sights on Ukraine.”
Were you afraid of death?
Often, when the shells passed by my side. You’ve taken great risks, but that’s what war documentaries are all about. It requires spending time on the front lines. Not everyone wants to have this experience. The question is whether the risk is worth it. In my personal case, I was convinced of this because at that time we were no longer talking at all about Ukraine and its war in the Donbass.
Is this documentary an indictment against leaders who did not see that a conflict of several years could deteriorate?
The leaders failed to end this war. But many things do not depend on them. Vladimir Putin never wanted to end the conflict in the Donbass, because he had his sights set on Ukraine. I am also upset by the TV media that I contacted in 2018. They told me that the war in Ukraine would not interest anyone…Unfortunately, the signs were already announcing what is happening today. When the war actually lasts for several years, it will erupt again at some point on a higher level.
“We’ve both gone through the same things, the same risks. And that creates very strong bonds, because we’re risking our lives the same way. We experience a strong intimacy that we feel in the movie.” Documenting alchemists
Your report is a hymn to press freedom. Is it more threatened than in the past?
I am glad that Ukraine is at the center of media attention. I’m sorry it comes a little late…but it’s better than nothing. The war in Ukraine is now an all-out war with military means that have never been used in the past ten years. The risks to frontline journalists are too great. We have suffered many deaths and this is likely to continue because the war will continue.
Analysts are betting on ending the conflict this summer. Do you believe in it?
Certainly not, Vladimir Putin did not achieve his goals. Donbass is still under Russian control. For him, ending the war now would be an admission of weakness. His plans had undoubtedly changed since the beginning of the attack. Despite the reduction in goals, it is clear, according to Putin, that the war will continue beyond the summer.
Do you want to return or do a report on potato cultivation in the center area?
For myself, I spend my life in Ukraine. But I needed to go back to France. I intend to return to the front this summer, because during this period the great battles will take place in the major cities of Donbass. Russia knows very well that media attention will fade, and we cannot talk about war on a daily basis for months. And in the summer, the media and diplomacy are less interactive. It’s silly to say, but we’re in the school vacation period. Ministers also take vacations and don’t interact in the same way. But the war will go on, it does not take holidays.
A picture to remember trenches ?
This semi-prophetic speech of a Ukrainian soldier papyrus. He says in 2020, European powers continue to conduct economic exchanges with Russia without taking into account Ukrainian needs. Now everything is in reverse!
* Loup Bureau is a freelance journalist for TV5 Monde. Convicted of terrorism, he was released after 52 days of confinement in a high-security Turkish prison, thanks to the intervention of the French authorities. His documentary “Trenches” was shown at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021.
trenches. From Wolf Office. Currently in the cinema.