Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom Movie Poster Image
Brutal but inspiring docu about 2013-'14 Ukrainian uprising.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 102 minutes

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age 16+
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Positive Messages

The movie honors courage, integrity, steadfastness, resourcefulness, and perseverance in the face of oppression. Illustrates the risk and consequences of fighting an impossible fight and being willing to press on. Values all the positive outcomes of teamwork with like-minded others to achieve a goal.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The general populace and the activists (some of whom are interviewees) are seen as brave, resolute, resourceful, and willing to risk all for what they believe. A wide range of participants of all ages and disparate religions come together, united for a common goal. Members of the clergy are shown to be brave, generous, and living up to the teachings of their religions. Police, militia, and other government agencies are uniformly rigid, aggressive, cruel, and willing to kill the innocent.


Real-life, on-camera brutality: brick throwing, beatings with iron sticks, tear gas, Molotov cocktails, and fires escalate as the film shows scenes of sheer terror during which armed government troops shoot to kill. Snipers, machine guns, and grenades are used against unarmed crowds. Protestors gather, terrified, in the square while armed officers shoot down into the crowd. Many people are shown bloodied and injured; deaths and injuries occur close-up as the camera rolls. Bodies lie in mounds and are strewn on sidewalks. A prisoner is dehumanized by his captors, who strip him of his clothing and march him fully nude through the street.


One scene of nonsexual nudity.


Sparse cursing ("hell," "ass"). Two picket signs read "f--k off."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Winter Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom is must-see viewing for very mature teens and grown-ups who want an in-depth look at a historic few months in the life of a people fighting against 21st-century oppression. Told strictly from the point of view of Ukraine citizens during their uprising from November 2013 to February 2014, the film chronicles the actual events of a protest that led to the resignation of the Ukrainian president and a new election. From beginning to end, it documents the savage brutality of the law-enforcement agencies who were called upon to put down the protests. Violence escalates from beatings with iron sticks and tear gas to machine-gun fire and snipers with real bullets mowing down crowds of demonstrators, including clergy from all faiths. Vicious beatings are delivered, blood flows, on-camera deaths occur, and swarming teams of police and militia face down a populace armed only with bricks and fire. Strong language is occasionally heard or seen ("hell," "ass," "f--k off"), and a fully nude man is shown being taken captive. Extreme, prolonged scenes of real violence necessitate strong caution.

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Teen, 16 years old Written byDanaelmu May 16, 2016

What's the story?

In WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, footage shot during the actual protests and demonstrations by Ukraine citizens from November 2013 until February 2014 provides a harrowing look at the country's fight for freedom and human dignity. Only a bit of narration sets the stage: Viktor Yanukovich was elected president of the Ukraine on a platform of a democratic government and joining the European Union; soon afterward, he betrayed his promise by refusing to join the EU and aligning himself with Vladimir Putin and Russia. Ongoing interviews with demonstrators and activists, director Evgeny Afineevsky, and his bold crew manage to document the intense 92-day struggle. The continually growing crowd of citizens of all ages and religions, from every part of Ukraine, gather at Madian, the central square in the capital city of Kiev, to protest the president's actions and demand his resignation. Three levels of law enforcement attempt to stop the demonstrations: local police; Berkut, the state militia; and, finally, Titushky, a formidable army of mercenaries. They show no mercy. The Ukrainian people do not give up. By the end of the battle, 125 people have been killed, 65 are missing, and nearly 2,000 have been injured. Much of the terror and destruction is captured in this film.

Is it any good?

A film crew opts to document a simple protest; the protest morphs into an all-out war against oppression, which results in a gripping account of bravery, brutality, and chaos. It's doubtful that Evgeny Afineevsky could have foreseen the struggle that Winter on Fire ultimately depicts. What he has scrupulously filmed, edited, and scored is a stunning, intimate record of events previously seen by international audiences only in film clips and relayed after the fact in news stories. Here it happens in real time, and nothing is censored. Some of the most poignant scenes show the desperate people begging their fearsome, well-equipped adversaries to remember their own Ukrainian roots ... to no avail.

Certainly, Winter on Fire represents only one side of this war -- no law-enforcement officer shown could ever be accused of having even the slightest conscience -- but Afineevsky doesn't pretend to balance his message. This is a Ukrainian revolution entirely from the point of view of the citizens. Sadly, though the film ends with a sense of accomplishment, optimism, and faith in the future, events since the spring of 2014 have proven that the Ukrainian people aren't yet "home free." Recommended for mature teens who are hungry for authentic documentation of current events.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss how a documentary film such as Winter on Fire illuminates what might have happened in other important uprisings and revolutions, including, perhaps, the U.S. fight for independence in the 1700s. Though in each case the citizens were fighting for "freedom and human dignity," in what ways is it more difficult and dangerous to speak out in the 21st century?

  • Why is it important to be aware of the Ukrainian government's (and, by extension, the Russian) point of view in this clash? How would you find out what that point of view was (is)?

  • Find out what has happened in Ukraine since the spring of 2014, when the war shown here was resolved. Given that new information, how does that change or confirm your feelings about what you've just seen?

  • How does seeing real-life violence compare to seeing fictional violence, such as the type that occurs in action movies?

  • How does Winter Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom promote courage and perseverance? What about integrity and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

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