by Jakob Preuss During the shoot in Donetsk I was always divided between sympathy for my protagonists and shaking my head with disbelief. Contrasting emotions I knew from my two year stay in Russia. I met people with so much energy and humour but was struck by the degree of dysfunction in the society and by the wild mixture of values, views and ideas which had maybe replaced Communist doctrine, but without any real coherence. Yes, I often understood the "Blue" views of people in Donetsk criticizing the Ukrainian Nationalist, anti-Russian approach of the "Orange" government in Kiev... but the conclusions they drew from these opinions (such as their glorification of Soviet days) were often scary. In any case any legitimate criticisms of the Ukrainian status quo are open to be exploited by the corrupt, self-seeking politicians who have ruled Ukraine ever since its independence. Whether from West Ukraine or East Ukraine, whether Pro-Russian or Pro-European, all Ukrainian governments have turned democracy into a farce and are responsible for the deep frustration that people there feel towards the system.
I had a cordial, sometimes affectionate, relationship with my characters, both with the pit workers, and with the oligarchs. But the polarising effect of the breakdown of the Soviet Union depresses me: we see a powerful elite getting rich at others' expense whilst working conditions for most people remain a catastrophe - especially in the coalmines of the Donbass-Region. Nevertheless the people cheer on their oligarchs in Donetsk, out of local patriotism and the yearning for strong leaders. And it was multi-billionaire Akhmetov's football club Shakhtar Donetsk that provided me with a link between the different worlds of my protagonists - all the country's contrasts and conflicts can be found in that stadium. A stadium which will host one of the semi-finals during the European Championchip in 2012.
There's a connection between big business, politics and sport, and it becomes obvious each time the politician Yanukovich (now President!) shows up in the VIP-box next to Ahkmetov, who is himself a member of Parliament of Yanukovichs party and the only shareholder in his holding "System Capital Management" which produces 10% of Ukrainian GDP.
Meanwhile, the miners on the terraces feel themselves divided between pride for the Club's international success and nostalgia for the good old days when half the team weren't Brazilian, but were boys from next door. They respect the club's president Akhmetov for spending his millions in his hometown rather than on the Côte d'Azur, but they also view their ruling classes as criminals. It was fascinating to hear the stories of these different people who all spoke quite frankly, expressing their views, hopes and frustrations.
It was also an unforgettable experience to film in the coal mine and to spend time with the miners, some of whom were well beyond working age. I was glad not to have to go with them underground every day and admired the way they stayed cheerful, despite all of them knowing somebody who has died in an accident in the run-down mines of Donbass. This cheerfulness sometimes seemed a necessity, the only way to deal with the difficulties of their lives. The love story between Valya and Stepanovich was something I discovered only gradually, and I was moved by the warmth and joy the two managed to share together despite their problematic personal histories.
It was an unexpected happy chance for me, my film and for my characters that the football club Shakthar won, and kept on winning... from Moscow to Marseille and all the way to the final in Istanbul. These were unexpected sporting successes which served to highlight, even more clearly, the country's social and political decline, which I hope, is my film's real focus.