Ukraine to tell its own war story

$20 million budget set for Crimean war film

MOSCOW — Ukraine’s defense chiefs are planning to put the historical record straight with a $20 million budget movie set during the Crimean war of the 1850s.

The film — about the siege of Sebastopol during the war between Russia and a British, French and Turkish allied force — will put the role of Ukrainian soldiers and sailors center stage.

A key purpose of the new film will be to challenge Sebastopol’s reputation as a Russian “city of glory,” according to Vladlen Litvinenko, head of the Ukrainian defense ministry television and radio service.

Ukraine, which gained its independence from centuries of Russian control in 1991 and only recently emerged from Russian influence during its peaceful Orange Revolution of 2004, is keen to assert its unique national heritage.

Sebastopol — a key port city in the Crimean peninsula — was also subject to a lengthy siege by German forces in the Second World War and has since been numbered among the Russian wartime “hero cities” with a stone marking its status situated close to the Kremlin’s eternal flame war memorial.

Ukraine’s military history was widely considered part of Russia’s by many Russians and featured in many Russian films and television series, Litvinenko told newspaper Novie Region.

“Under such circumstances Ukrainians will soon hold ordinary Russian soldiers in higher regard than Ukrainian generals,” he said.

The new film — which the Defense Ministry hopes to start shooting in the autumn — will downplay Russia’s role and emphasize that most of the fighting took place between armed warships manned by Ukrainian sailors fighting the allied forces.

The move is part of a wider campaign in Ukraine to wrest control of cultural and cinematic markets from Russian dominance.

In January, new measures stipulating that films released cinematically in Ukraine had to be local language versions prompted an outcry by Russian and local distributors, particularly in the country’s eastern half where most people are ethnic Russians and speak Russian rather than Ukrainian.

But in a sign that the Defense Ministry is seeking to avoid confrontation with Russia, Litvinenko said the Crimean war film should be an international effort and that co-production funds would be sought from the Russian Defense Ministry and other countries involved in the historic conflict.

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