When Russia began its attack on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in February of 2022, many people expected the city to fall in days. But the Ukrainians refused to surrender.
Now, a new FRONTLINE documentary, Ukraine: Life Under Russia’s Attack, offers a dramatic and intimate look inside the Russian assault on Kharkiv, told by the people living through it: the displaced families trying to survive underground, the civilians caught in the fight, and the first responders risking their lives to protect them.
“Only a fool is not afraid,” says Tatiana, a paramedic who had spent her days trying to save shelling victims since the war began. “Everyone gets afraid. Fear is normal.”
Filmed on the ground over the first three months of the war in Kharkiv, a city just 25 miles from Russia, Ukraine: Life Under Russia’s Attack premieres Tuesday, August 2 on APT and online. Filmed, produced and directed in Ukraine by Mani Benchelah and Patrick Tombola with producer Volodymyr Pavlov, with additional direction by Teresa Smith and executive production by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Ben de Pear and Edward Watts (For Sama) and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, the documentary tells the story of the battle for Kharkiv through the experiences of those who stayed in the city, despite the ever-present threat of the war.
Among them is Roman, a firefighter, who moved into the fire station with his wife and young daughter amid near constant shelling. “My wife doesn't like when I’m going,” he says. “When we are coming back from the fires, she always cries. But she's already used to it.
In a city transformed into a war zone, the documentary follows Roman, Tatiana and other first responders on urgent missions as they work to save the lives of Ukrainian civilians.
Civilians like Sergey, who lost one arm when his apartment was hit by shelling. “Why should I go somewhere far away? If this is my home, shall I go and lie in a ditch?” he says, while living with other displaced people in the basement of a school. “If we are helped a bit, we shall keep on living here. This is my motherland.”