Although the war in Ukraine continues to dominate all the headlines, many have forgotten that a war had already been raging in Donbas for eight years. We trace the geopolitical history of the Ukrainian conflict from 2014 onwards, uncovering its roots in history. Production began in May 2021, when the conflict was at a standstill and the international community was trying to solve it. From the beginning, we had access to top officials participating in these negotiations. Back then, we already wanted to show what was at stake in those negotiations, the weaknesses of Europe and the return of Cold War dynamics.
We look at the history of the conflict through archival footage from all over the world and testimonies from key participants in the past and current negotiations for a ceasefire. With them, we discussed the origins of the war, going back as far as the fall of the U.S.S.R.; the Minsk agreements; the “Normandie Format” meetings; and the years of stagnation followed by today’s full-blown invasion. Interviewing officials from all sides help us to deliver a deep analysis of a complicated situation, and to tell these geopolitics in a lively, human, and nuanced way.
Key interviewees include François Hollande (former French President), Kurt Volker (special representative of the Trump administration in Ukraine), Petro Poroshenko (former Ukrainian President), Alexey Meshkov (former Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs), Rüdiger von Fritsch (former German Ambassador to Moscow), Sylvie Bermann (former French Ambassador to Russia and OSCE representative in the tri-lateral contact group negotiations), Dmytro Kuleba (current Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs), etc.
This documentary also tells the story of civilians in Donbas. In December 2021, we spent ten days filming with the inhabitants of Zaitsevo and Opitne, two towns sitting very close to the frontline — a 500-kilometer line which, since 2014, has separated the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukrainian territory. For years, these civilians had been caught in the middle. They were all at the same time participants, victims and onlookers of the war raging next to their homes. They welcomed us into their lives, where war was enmeshed in everyday reality. Some told us about their families torn between pro- and anti-separatists; others about the fragility of the ceasefires that were negotiated in international summits over the years; others yet about their nostalgia for the U.S.S.R. and the importance of the Russian language. While our crew was there, 100 000 Russian soldiers were gathering by the border, and the world was holding its breath.
Since the February invasion, many of these civilians have stayed in their homes in Donbas. Some have been sending us invaluable photos and videos of the current situation. Others are now refugees near Kyiv. Our crew met them there last May and filmed their new daily reality. This angle will allow us to build a stronger narrative of the negotiations and the war between 2014 and 2022 by alternating the geopolitical scale with a more local and personified approach.