Screening of ‘Women Guardians at War’ by Ukrainian filmmaker set for March 2

Ukrainian documentarian Volodymyr Sydko with machine gunner Oksana Rubaniak.
Ukrainian documentarian Volodymyr Sydko with machine gunner Oksana Rubaniak. Sydko’s film series with Rubaniak and four other women will be screened March 2 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center in Moscow (photo courtesy of Volodymyr Sydko).

A machine gunner writes a book of poetry for a fallen friend. A volunteer withstands the smell of death to bring deceased Ukrainian soldiers home. A grieving mother cooks for the soldiers who remind her of her son.

These are a few of the women whose stories of perseverance since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 are included in a documentary film series by Ukrainian filmmaker Volodymyr Sydko, “Women Guardians at War.” The films will be screened at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center in Moscow. Admission is free and open to the public.

The viewing is sponsored by the Washington State University Department of History, the WSU Department of English, the David G. Pollart Center for Arts and Humanities, WSU Libraries, and Lost Horse Press.

Co-organizer Gabriella Reznowski, a business and economics librarian at WSU, has worked with Ukrainian communities in Washington state to expand refugee access to Ukrainian language materials through library collections. Reznowski organized a panel at last year’s American Library Association conference to raise awareness for supporting Ukrainian language communities and to inform ALA members about the destruction of Ukrainian libraries. A colleague introduced Reznowski to Sydko’s films.

Liudmyla Kravchenka cooks meals to sustain the Ukrainian soldiers who remind her of her deceased son.
Liudmyla Kravchenka cooks meals to sustain the Ukrainian soldiers who remind her of her deceased son (photo courtesy of Volodymyr Sydko).

“I was mesmerized by the stories of courage, resilience, hope, and determination that the protagonists offered,” she said. “I recognized many of the same themes in their stories. I was struck by how the lives of the five women were reflected within our own local Ukrainian community. Ukrainian women on the Palouse likewise contribute their talents and resources while sharing stories about the impact of the war.”

Members of the local Ukrainian community will introduce the five short films and participate in a Q&A panel, moderated by Andrei Smertenko, WSU associate professor of molecular plant sciences. Many of the panelists came to the Palouse in 2022 and 2023 and have first-hand experiences of the war, experiences that connect them with the protagonists in the films.

One protagonist, bus driver Liudmyla Kravchenka, now spends much of her time cooking food to ensure that the Ukrainian military receives a square meal. She states: “Throughout my life, I have always thought of myself as a coward. But since [2022], that has all just disappeared.”

Kravchenka along with other protagonists in the film contribute their skills from various spheres, including cooking, defense, the arts, and medical care. They also recover and return the bodies of fallen soldiers to their families, Reznowski said.

Closeup of Tetiana Pototska
Tetiana Pototska volunteers to recover the bodies of Ukrainians, especially soldiers, who died during the war (photo courtesy of Volodymyr Sydko).

In another one of Sydko’s films, the owner of a successful travel agency, Tetiana Pototska, volunteers to retrieve the bodies of Ukrainians who died in the war.

“In the beginning, I used to count the bodies. I would count them until there were 80, and then I stopped counting,” Pototska said. “I don’t need the numbers. I don’t think anyone does. I’m more interested in those children, I still call them children, being buried. Buried with honor, buried like heroes.”

Olena Pedia, who arrived in Pullman in 2023 from Russian-occupied Melitopol, will introduce the film about Oksana “Xena” Rubaniak, a machine gunner who volunteered for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Pedia recalls watching “Xena: Warrior Princess” on television as a young girl growing up in Ukraine and dreaming of being like Xena. “I never thought that Xena would actually exist as my fellow citizen, that she would protect me from my enemies…,” Pedia said. “Years go by; heroes change. Now I want to be like Oksana Rubaniak, a woman who repels the enemy, writes poems, and creates the history of my country.”

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