An important and heart-piercing documentary, When Spring Came to Bucha provides a glimpse of the war destruction Russia is leaving in Ukraine, a film that fills you with not only sorrow, but hope – a vital film.
In early 2022, the Russian army occupied the small Ukrainian town of Bucha near the capital, Kyiv, for several weeks. Then, after a month of intense fighting, the Russian army withdrew, leaving the town destroyed in its wake. Citizens share their stories as they clean their streets of debris and rebuild their shattered homes. The municipal services manager, Yuri, struggles to keep people supplied with clean drinking water. Olenka is the only pupil in her classroom after two of her classmates are killed, the rest having left the country. Yet in the midst of suffering, a young couple gets married, and life must go on.
Marcus Lenz and Mila Teshaieva had gone as simple as possible for their film When Spring Came to Bucha. They didn’t have to do anything fancy or dramatic to evoke an emotion out of their audience; all they had to do was film. As a result, everything you witness in the film fills you with sorrow to see people’s livelihoods and their homes destroyed. To see people dead on the streets as a city tries to figure out how to rebuild itself.
This simplicity is the film’s strength; early on, we are with a woman who shows us what they have left from their home, that all her family needs is a bed and a roof, and that TV and internet aren’t integral now. She breaks down, realising her words; she is happy to be alive. Similarly, when an older woman talks to a Ukrainian soldier, the female soldier must let her know she is safe. However, this older woman is still clearly traumatised from what she has experienced. Getting these honest and raw moments on screen is all the filmmakers need to do, and they do so expertly.
Moments like watching a woman talk about her home as she cooks outside are almost meditative considering what we see throughout the film; then, a gut punch will come as she talks about the exhumation of her neighbour. Then we see a group of men readying coffins. The grim nature of what has been carried out in Bucha will unlikely leave you for a long time after watching When Spring Came to Bucha. When not (rightly) emotional, the way the people of Bucha are so matter-of-fact about what they need to do, such as checking for bombs.
People seem to continue as humans are, even with bodies strewn all around them, burnt-out and collapsed apartment blocks, and people returning to their homes to find that their basements were used as torture centres. You ask yourself how these people can keep going, and it seems unfathomable to do so. Yet these resilient people do so. Interspersed with the horror is humanity, we see people help one another to show that they are not alone and can get through this onslaught together. After all, what do we have if we do not have hope?
You could go on and on and detail each devastating scene after another, but it simply would not do what Lenz and Teshaieva have completed here justice. You have to watch When Spring Came to Bucha; even if you are well aware of the events that happened there or anywhere in Ukraine, seeing it and seeing the people do what they can to keep going both shocks you that humans could do this to one another and fill you with pride that a city attacked in this way can try and move forward – a remarkable and devastating film.
All films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are screening at the Barbican, and available from 20-26 March to stream from the festival website. https://ff.hrw.org/london#festival_schedule
Coverage from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023
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