It is the eve of an expected offensive on kyiv by the Russian forces of Vladimir Putin and Natalka Vorozhbit, a Ukrainian playwright and filmmaker, takes refuge with her family in a house on the outskirts of the city. Its lights are set to their lowest setting in accordance with local recommendations.
In an evening Zoom call via an interpreter, she tells me she has been hearing shelling since 5 a.m. Everyone in kyiv and abroad expects an air assault on the city to begin that night. The outside temperature is cold, about three degrees Celsius. If the raids begin, Vorozhbit will have to take shelter with his family in the cellar. No one, she says, knows what tomorrow will bring.
It’s a strange time to talk about his film bad roads, an adaptation of his 2017 play, but since it’s about the realities of living through the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in Ukraine’s breakaway regions, it seems tragically timely. She says it’s her way of warning people in the West that what happened to Ukraine could also happen to them.
“We are dealing with a madman who is ready to press the button on nuclear weapons, and we should stop him altogether,” she says. “It’s a threat to everyone.”
Vorozhbit, who until recently used the Russian spelling of her first name, Natalya, tells me she sees current events as the culmination of everything she feared if the West continued to ignore the problems of the world. Ukraine with Russia over the past 10 years or so.
“None of this would happen if Ukraine was part of NATO, and of course I hope for NATO’s support,” she says. She remains stoic even though she is clearly upset by recent events.
Born in 1975 in kyiv, Vorozhbit represents the archetype of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression, but her career also speaks of the entanglement in the region. A graduate of the Maxim Gorky Institute of Literature in 2000, Vorozhbit cut her teeth as a playwright while working on the Russian television series school and has always worked in Russian and Ukrainian. In 2009 she was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to write a play for a post-Soviet theater season and contributed The grain storeabout the Stalin-manufactured famine in the 1930s that killed millions in Ukraine.
After the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, in which she participated, Vorozhbit set out to document what life was like in separatist conflict zones in the country’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainians and Russians had returned with tragic consequences. His next piece, bad roads, was inspired by these experiences. It debuted at the Royal Court Theater in London in 2017, consisting of six stand-alone stories from the conflict zone.
The play received favorable reviews and three years later she was approached by a producer to make it into a movie. “I was scared but accepted the challenge,” she says, adding that she had then hoped to move away from the subject of war and conflict in her work. The realities of his current environment made this much more difficult to do.
Although she’s never done it before, Vorozhbit directed the adaptation herself and it debuted at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. It was later submitted as Ukraine’s entry in the Best International Feature category of this year’s Oscars and shortlisted by the Academy, although it was not made. make the final list of five nominees.
For many, bad roads will make viewing uncomfortable. Besides the bloody brutality of the conflict, the film also exposes its psychological impact. In one scene, Yulia, played by Maryna Klimova, is a Ukrainian journalist who finds herself captured in hostile territory. She is ruthlessly mocked by her Russian captor, a vulgar warmonger and economic criminal responsible for the deaths of hundreds of individuals. But then come moments of sincerity and vulnerability. “I have a headache,” he admits. Yulia ultimately takes advantage of this as she murders her and breaks her away.
In another tense encounter, an otherwise routine checkpoint hangs on a knife’s edge. A drunken schoolteacher is confronted by border guards who don’t believe he innocently misplaced his identity papers. It is a significant metaphor for the difficulties of a country whose etymological origin of the name is “borderland”.
Is this really life in the Donbass, I ask him. “All stories have real elements in one way or another,” says Vorozhbit. “I knew a captive journalist, but she did not kill her rapist.”
The title bad roads refers to the uncertainty of never knowing where the path ahead might lead. The film is part psychological thriller, part horror, with each storyline featuring interactions that the viewer knows could go awry very quickly if the key protagonists get the wrong footing.
Today, Vorozhbit finds herself in an equally precarious position, although she notes that recent events have made the situations dramatized in her film pale in comparison. “The realities are now much scarier. And not only in these regions, but throughout Ukraine. And that’s what I tried to warn the world against in my film by trying to prevent it,” she says.
The film may not have succeeded in doing this, but it does manage to portray how the quest for survival in times of war compromises our values, even those of us who try to resist the forces of corruption with small measures of resistance. passive. It also shows how oddly mundane circumstances can lead to an irreversible chain reaction and, ultimately, disaster.
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Had bad roads released in 2020, we could have found it not very credible because of the extreme way in which the scenes unfold, sometimes resembling a horror film. Now, against the backdrop of the grim reality of Putin’s invasion, this lingers in the mind precisely because of the plausibility of the scenarios.
A few weeks after our conversation, concerned about his well-being, I reconnected with Vorozhbit. She tells me she arrived in the relative safety of Lviv, in western Ukraine, near the Polish border. Even so, she can’t help but think about what she left behind in Kyiv. “Everything dear to me is there,” she said.
“Bad Roads” is available on HBO in Central and Eastern Europe and is awaiting a UK release. A theatrical release in the United States is scheduled for April and will then be available on American streaming platforms.