Source: UP9 (Licensed under CC by 2.0)

The Ukrainian flag

There are so many heartbreaking stories from Ukraine, from so many walks of life. So many stories from the filmmaking community, as members including Oleg Sentsov return to take up arms against the invading Russian forces.

Like the editorial team and film critics of Screen International, the Ukrainian film critic Natalia Serebryakova was attending the Berlin Film Festival less than a month ago. We came back to our homes; Serebryakova is now sheltering in a bunker in her hometown of Sumy, in the northeast of the country, with her husband, son and cat, under siege and constant shelling.

Instead of writing film reviews, Serebryakova is now writing a diary of her experience.

“On February 12, just before the screening of the Nick Cave documentary This Much I Know To Be True, I read the news that the Americans were again warning about an imminent Russian invasion. It said the invasion would happen on February 16, the day I was due to travel back home to Sumy from Berlin,” she writes. “I spoke with my mum about it and neither of us could believe that Russia would invade. ‘What?! A real war? Like during WWII? It’s impossible!’”

Eight days later, Serebryakova fled her home, carrying only a rucksack. 

As communities stand side-by-side, Screen International and our critics stand with Natalia and family, her friends and colleagues in the media. We publish an excerpt from her diary here and encourage readers to share it, and all the other stories like her’s. The link to her blog is below. 

February 24, 2022

“I woke up at half past five in the morning, and lay in bed for a while. Then my husband, who was reading the news on his mobile phone, told me: ‘Get up and get dressed!’ Confused, I asked: ‘What should I wear?’ – ‘Whatever’s comfortable,’ he answered. I put on my jeans and a warm jumper; I made coffee. My husband woke up our son. Then we heard someone knocking at the neighbour’s door. My husband went out on the landing, and saw our neighbour, a policeman, dressed in his uniform and carrying a rifle. ‘It’s… it’s… war. Are you staying here or are you going to evacuate?’ he asked. He was pretty anxious, understandably: he has two young children. 

We picked up our rucksacks, which we had packed a few days ago with biscuits, bottles of water, ID documents and warm socks, and left our apartment to go to my mother-in-law’s house. Our cat Marsik meowed in his carrying case all the way to the house. It was 7am, but the streets were full of people. Many people walked in groups, carrying bags and rucksacks. There were queues to the cash machines. People were withdrawing cash, because the shops stopped accepting bank cards. Bread disappeared from the shelves very fast.  

We reached my mother-in-law’s house. The TV was on and we started watching the Ukraine 24 channel, which was broadcasting the first news of the war. They said not only Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Melitopol in the east, but also the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in the west of the country were under attack. They said five Russian planes had been shot down. I deleted my film chat and subscribed to the local Sumy Telegram channels, which were publishing up-to-date news and info.

At around 2pm we saw three armoured vehicles driving along our street, tucked away deep in the heart of the city. At 5pm we learnt that Russian tanks were moving along Kharkivskaya Street. My son checked a video broadcast from the city web-cams on his phone and said: ‘Look – they’re driving past the Sadko fountain and turning towards the train station.’ Later in the evening we heard the news that there was heavy fighting for the local cadet school. At night the sky in that district turned red, a church was on fire. This very particular ominous red colour which we, Ukrainians, remember very well from the days of Maidan.”

Continue reading Natalia’s blog HERE.

Natalia’s last entry is dated March 1. On March 7, a fleeting evacuation corridor from Sumy opened after 21 deaths the night before, including that of two children. We expect an update soon as events continue to play out for Natalia and her family.