Many new Ukrainian civil society organizations have emerged during the crisis in the country. Some groups, such as StopFake or anti-corruption organizations, have a specific agenda in holding Ukrainian politicians accountable or resisting Russian intervention. Other groups, particularly on social media, have emerged to provide coverage and commentary on the historic but oftentimes seemingly chaotic events happening in the country.
One such group, Babylon13, is attempting to revolutionize the way that viewers are engaged with current events and developments in the country. The Babylon13 film project has been documenting the evolving political situation in Ukraine since the start of the Euromaidan protests that toppled former President Viktor Yanukovych in February, 2014. Despite its humble beginnings in an office near Maidan Square soon after the start of the protest movement, the project has drawn in some of Ukraine’s most eminent filmmakers. Fifteen directors, as well as a plethora of cameramen and other support staff, are currently working on the project throughout the country.
Babylon13 organizers view their project as a creative method to portray current events in Ukraine as they are really happening. “Babylon13 seeks to portray the realities of events in Ukraine”, said Sviatoslav Yurash, the project’s communications director. Babylon13’s videos are made without narration, giving voice to those featured in the videos and relying on the viewer to interpret the events onscreen rather than offering an interpretation on its own. However, Yurash admits that even the most seemingly objective depiction of events have a subjective quality. “People are inherently subjective”, including filmmakers, he said, even as the project’s videos try to allow the viewers to reach their own conclusions about events themselves.
Every uploaded Babylon13 video encourages comments and interactions between viewers, who often draw different conclusions from one another. Even the so-called “Putin trolls”, the hordes of pro-Russia commentators, who inevitably comment on any Ukraine-related material, play a role in this interaction. They can be useful in that they facilitate dialogue and argument, even if they initially comment to intimidate or ridicule.
Just as the political situation in Ukraine has shifted drastically over the past several months, from revolution in Kyiv to war in the east and reforms in the capital, Babylon13 has also adapted to the country’s new environments. What started as a cinema of civil protest has evolved into cinema of civil society. As protest and new conceptions of nation create a new society, Babylon13 is capturing this process at the most basic level. Babylon13’s founders hope that their project will record Ukraine’s transition, as the nation rebuilds itself from corruption, unrest, and war. Just last week, the project documented protests outside the Ukrainian parliament in favor of the lustration of certain officials from public office for past abuses.
Babylon13 is especially aimed at Ukraine’s younger generation, those Ukrainians who were raised in an independent Ukraine and are less burdened by the Soviet past. The project also aims to attract those within the post-Soviet space, in particular, where there are many similar problems and struggles. In addition, Babylon13 has already attracted considerable attention from Ukrainian émigré communities. Many Ukrainian organizations in the United States and Canada, including Ukrainian church groups, have organized viewings of the videos. Babylon13 also provides English subtitles for its videos, which will allow those in the international community, many of whom might not have much familiarity with Ukraine, easier access to the material.
As Ukraine begins the long transition from corruption, autocracy, and instability to pluralistic democracy and a modern economy, Babylon13 founders claim that the initiative would continue to capture and document the history of this process in real time, serving as a cinematic record of Ukrainian history.
Chris Dunnett, Ukraine Crisis Media Center
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