A window into Fortress Mariupol. Orest is a concentrated essence of 2022 and a return of the truth. How the final screening of the Travelling Docudays UA in Lviv Region went

A window into Fortress Mariupol. Orest is a concentrated essence of 2022 and a return of the truth. How the final screening of the Travelling Docudays UA in Lviv Region went

01 December 2022

Fortress Mariupol is a series of documentaries based on the filmmaker Yulia Hontaruk’s video calls to warriors from Azovstal. Yulia constructs images of the defenders of Mariupol, intertwining them with chronicles of prewar life and footage they managed to film in the fortress city. Orest is a video story about Dmytro Kozatsky, Azov’s press officer. Dmytro does not handle weapons: his weapons are words and pictures. It was through the eyes and ears of the press officer that the world saw the defenders of Azovstal. The film about Orest became the closing event of this year’s Travelling Docudays UA festival in Lviv Region. The screening and discussion with the director Yulia Hontaruk and Orest himself as guests took place on 22 November at the Science and Technology Library of the Lviv Polytechnic University. The conversation was moderated by Iryna Starovoyt, poet, essayist, professor at the Cultural Studies Department of the Ukrainian Catholic University.


A light green room at the library is packed with people. The walls are a part of the screening. Several photos on them feature the new heroes: the defenders of Azovstal, photographed by Dmytro at their hardest moments. Wounded, tired and hungry but unbreakable. They smile from the photos as if their lives are not hanging by a thread. Artefacts of war are carefully arranged under the photos: fragments of Russian missiles and shells.


Dmytro Kozatsky, call sign Orest, is 27. For 3 months of these 27 years he was in besieged Mariupol, and for 4 months in captivity. Now Orest is free and contacts us from New York, where he is presenting another film about Mariupol to an American audience.


The director Yulia Hontaruk is also next to him in a Zoom window. Yulia was very close to all the events at Azovstal from the very first days, looking for any way to help the civilians and military in the besieged fortress.


For Yulia, Mariupol has become her “second city after Kyiv.” On 24 January 2015, the Russians bombed the Eastern neighborhood in Mariupol for the first time—the director made her debut film 10 Seconds about this event. Since then, she has regularly visited the seaside city.


“I followed Azov, filmed them for seven years. When Mariupol was besieged, I realised that all my friends and acquaintances whom I filmed will not back off, they will hold the city. These are absolutely heroic people. But it seemed like I could not do anything either: you can’t just come to a besieged city to film.


“I could only listen. When they were down to their last pack of wet wipes, paper, menstrual pads. How people were dying there—right now, at this moment. That’s how I realised that the only thing I could do is talk about the defenders of the city,” recalls the filmmaker.


From that moment on, Yulia started calling and messaging all the soldiers in Mariupol whom she knew. That is how she was introduced to Orest.


“Despite the incredible workload of the boys and the press service, he was answering. I shared Azov videos, shared information about what was going on. And then I realised that I could combine the recorded video calls with footage filmed in the previous years, 2016 and 2017. One of the heroes once said, ‘We’re holding Fortress Mariupo.’ And I felt this image was perfectly necessary for the film,” says the director.


Iryna Starovoyt, the event moderator, added that although Mariupol was not built as a fortress, it was turned into a fortress by everyone who was defending it. A city under the threat of death, built for life.


Orest looked equally positive both in the documentary, sitting on explosive RPG missiles, and in the video call from New York. When asked how it was possible, he shrugged and said, “That’s how I was brought up.”


“At Azovstal, everyone realised that every day that passes can be their last. Any opportunity to chat with someone felt relaxing, even when I was sitting on RPG missiles. Every time we were happy to the fullest, like it was the last time,” recalls Kozatsky. Every time Orest shared something, the audience burst into applause.


Dmytro noted that for him, the tragic war was also a time of truth at the same time.


“Before, in the pre-digital era, it was hard not to feel lost. By the time you make the video, develop it, the moment has already passed. But the truth of Mariupol could be broadcast online. We could show a nation of heroes defending their life to the last breath. We were able to document everything that was happening, that we must never turn towards russia, we must never look for brothers in the East. We had to hold on because we were the symbol of how Ukraine was holding on. We were all aware that our story was very high-profile and public. That we had to overcome our moments of weakness so we could continue calling ourselves Ukrainians,” says the press officer of Azov.


Recording Fortress Mariupol became a concentrated essence of 2022. The director, Yulia Hontaruk, said that it was very important for her to show Mariupol alive and real.


“I managed to film how much humanity, kindness and honest was there at Azovstal and among Azov warriors, how the myth about nazis was dispelled. Before, I filmed activities at patriotic camps for teenagers. And now the children I filmed 8 years ago have grown up and fight. Ukrainian children who will live through this and become the foundation of our state,” said Yulia.


An audience question for Orest: Does he feel any emotions? Did he feel them there, at Azovstal?


“There, at the factory, I wasn’t feeling anything. But here, in New York, my main emotion is guilt, because I constantly think that I have to return home. I still can’t cry, but I can feel joy. I remember Eurovision, when Kalush Orchestra shouted ‘Save Azovstal’ from the stage. It was very important for us back then. And it’s still important, because over 2,000 people are still in Russian captivity. We will only be able to feel joy in full when everyone is home. For example, when the Faine Misto foundation started working to help our POWs held by Russia, it was also about joy. And about important things,” shared Orest.


To conclude the meeting, Iryna Starovoyt noted that Stalin had control over the narrative in his time, he could choose which information to release to the surface. So genocides were possible. But because Azovstal was not silent, it became the leader of the living world.


“The truth always overcomes lies, and light overcomes darkness,” replied Orest.


This year the Docudays UA team launched not only traditional festival film screenings with discussions but also the War Archive, a unified database of video and audio recordings about the war in Ukraine. The team stores and organises war chronicles to make Russian crimes visible and punish the perpetrators later. And to collect testimonies about the lived experience of war. At the screening, Nina Khoma, the festival coordinator in Lviv Region, presented the project concept and mission and invited everyone who felt willing and able to do so to join the initiative.


That was how this year’s Travelling Docudays UA festival in Lviv ended. With hope for the truth. And for light in spite of darkness.


Writer: Aliona Martyniuk

20 Travelling Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
October — December 2022