Staff Writer Julia Tolda attended the Russian Film Club screening of The Guide (Поводир) by Oles Sanin, a Ukrainian movie. 

“It is ethically impossible to show Russian films right now,” stated Professor Mark Lipovetsky of Columbia’s Slavic Department at the beginning of the event. Professor Daria Ezerova agreed, adding, “One of the few things we can do right now is keep the conversation going.” 

On March 7, in solidarity with Ukrainians and their nation, the Russian Film Club screened The Guide (Поводир) by Oles Sanin. The screening was preceded by the words of Harriman Institute’s Professor Yuri I. Shevchuk, the Columbia Ukrainian Film Club’s founder. 

Ukraine’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards expands on the historical context of the current war, as the pattern of Russian aggression towards Ukrainians’ sovereignty is not new. The Guide addresses one of the most painful pages of Ukrainian history, the Holodomor, an artificially created famine that spanned from 1932 to 1933. Shevchuk described it as “a full-pronged attack on the Ukrainian nation”: a genocide of intellectuals, peasants, and religious organizations, as well as a resettlement of Russians in Crimea and Donbass. These, Professor Shevchuk notes, are “all elements present in Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

In director Sanin’s film, young American boy Peter Shamrock gets caught up in the whirlwind of historical events. The boy’s leftist engineer father is brutally murdered by Soviet officials after spending months helping “build socialism.” Peter is taken in by Ivan, a blind bandura player (Kobzar), and becomes his guide. Together, the two attempt to live through the Holodomor and the Soviet persecution of Kobzars. 

“Is this based on a true story?” asked Professor Lipovetsky after the film’s end. “Yes and no,” responded Professor Shevchuk. While Peter Shamrock might not have existed, the historical events and context depicted are real. Drawing on folklore and mythology, the movie explores the destruction of Ukrainian culture through the figure of the Kobzar. It is Sanin’s declaration of love for Ukraine while also a confrontation of the horrible pain experienced by its people. I cannot recommend it enough, especially as an introduction to Ukrainian cinema and culture.

Low Library illuminated with the colors of the Ukrainian flag via Julia Tolda