Ukrainians featured in acclaimed films are evacuating amid Russian attacks

A boy's head sticks up above the surface of a river
A scene from the documentary “The Distant Barking of Dogs.”
(Final Cut for Real)

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine have forced the protagonists of two prominent Ukrainian documentaries to evacuate their homes.

Oscar-nominated “Flee” producer Monica Hellström and Sundance-winning director Simon Lereng Wilmont joined forces this week to help evacuate some of the participants portrayed in their recent documentaries, 2017’s Oscars-shortlisted “The Distant Barking of Dogs” and this year’s “A House Made of Splinters.”

Oleg Afanasyev and his grandmother, Alexandra Ryabichkina, who starred in “The Distant Barking of Dogs,” are being evacuated from their village of Hnutove, Donetsk. The acclaimed documentary depicted the harshness of living in a war zone and how citizens like Ryabichkina refuse to give up their homes.


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Last month, Lereng Wilmont won the World Cinema Documentary directing prize for “A House Made of Splinters” at the Sundance Film Festival. After Lereng Wilmont had to evacuate his home following a bomb threat, the children’s shelter that was the focus of “A House Made of Splinters” is facing a similar crisis amid Russia’s attacks.

Hellström told The Times in an email that “A House Made of Splinters” assistant director Azad Safarov and coordinator Lena Rozvadovska in Ukraine, who are also the founders of the nonprofit Voices of Children, have been working this week to help evacuate the shelter’s children.

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“The situation is constantly changing,” Hellström told The Times. “We are of course keeping in touch with them but always have to be mindful how many specifics we can share given the precariousness of their safety.”

The producer worked closely with Voices of Children to produce “A House Made of Splinters,” which spotlights children who have been removed from their homes while awaiting court custody decisions, and the trauma they face living close to the frontlines.

Hellström’s latest Oscar nomination is for “Flee” a Danish animated documentary about a refugee who fled Afghanistan as a child in the ’90s.