Estonian film director publishes new book of wartime Ukraine diaries

Banners, flags and flowers tied to barriers outside the Russian Embassy in Tallinn's Old Town.
Banners, flags and flowers tied to barriers outside the Russian Embassy in Tallinn's Old Town. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A new book, "Ukraine Diaries" by Estonian film director Vahur Laiapea brings together interviews and personal insights collected over the last year during his time working in Ukraine. Speaking on Klassikaraadio's "Delta" program, Laiapea said, the interviews he conducted revealed a great deal of bravery and heroism, but also some opinions that were difficult to accept.

Laiapea has been working on topics related to the war in Ukraine since 2015. "The war we are talking about started in 2014. Most Ukrainians I have met remind people who don't remember, that the war has been going on for more than eight years. What started on February 24 (2022) was the final act of this long-standing aggression, which I hope will soon come to an end."

Laiapea said, that as a documentary filmmaker, he always keeps his eyes and ears open for stories. That is why, a few weeks before Russia's full-scale military invasion, he went to Ukraine to make a film, sensing that a major war was about to begin.

"I went back (to Ukraine) on February 8, which was still about two weeks before the full-scale war started, but everything was already up in the air," he said.

Over the past year, Laiapea has been back to Ukraine six times. During these visits he has interacted with hundreds of people and also kept a diary to give people outside Ukraine a closer insight of what is happening on the ground. "So that this war doesn't remain as just a statistic or a slogan, but that the everyday pain and losses of the people who are there in reality, don't go unnoticed."

According to Laiapea, his experience has clearly highlighted how some people have grown during the war, but also their vulnerabilities. "In some cases, it is quite interesting to see how a side of a person, who has maybe not been noticed much before, which perhaps their loved ones did not know existed, has come to the fore in the context of this war," he said.

Laiapea said, that the interviews he conducted in Ukraine revealed a great deal of bravery and heroism, but also opinions that were difficult to accept. He recalled one meeting in Irpin with a woman of Russian descent, who had been born and lived her whole life in Ukraine. She thought, that Ukraine should have given Russia the territories it wanted in order to prevent the full-scale invasion from happening.

"When I asked her where she would like to live, she said she wanted to live in Ukraine, but in Kyiv, not in the areas she suggested ought to have been given to Russia," Laipea said.

The director admitted that, while he was in Ukraine, he had also regularly heard the opinion that both sides were to blame for the war.

"It's really insulting and stupid," he said, comparing it to a situation where someone is being beaten up in the street and onlookers just stand by and watch, saying they are neither on one side nor the other. "If you don't pick a side, you're actually supporting the violence," he said.

Laiapea's book also includes stories from before the full-scale invasion began last February, as well from encounters on the border, and conversations he has had with war refugees.

The director said, that while he already has enough material to make a film about the events, he did not want to rush the process. "It's extremely possible, that we'll go out and do some more filming during the war. In the best case scenario, we could make a film about how Ukraine has won the war. Maybe that will form a (narrative) arc that starts before the war and ends when it is over," he explained.

"I'm sure that this war will end with a victory for Ukraine. There is no other way. The country has such a strong spirit and has rallied so hard against this aggression that I think it is already possible to say, not that Ukraine has won this war, but that Russia has already lost it. I'm not just talking about the physical losses – the degree of moral bankruptcy of the Russian state and people is beyond measure," the director said.

The book "Ukraine Diaries" by Vahur Laiapea is available (in Estonian) in book stores now.


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Editor: Michael Cole, interviewer Ivo Heinloo

Source: "Delta"

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