Despite the difficult economic situation and the pandemic, Ukraine is actively preparing to create a feature film “Konotop”. Well-known Ukrainian director, screenwriter and researcher of Ukrainian history Taras Kaljandruk talked with us in an interview about the work on a new movie project.
– How did you come up with the idea for the film “Konotop”?
– A few years ago, we honored the memory of the prominent Ukrainian hetman Ivan Vyhovsky in the village of Ruda in the Lviv region, where his ancestral estate once stood, and where, according to retellings, he is buried. Now in Ruda there is a memorial museum of the famous hetman. My documentary “Ivan Vyhovsky” was shown at the ceremony.
– I heard that this was the first documentary about the Great Hetman in Ukraine.
– You are right. The film was made in 2009 and it was the first documentary that attempts to comprehend this outstanding personality. But let’s get back to the topic of conversation. So, a group of Kyiv guests from patriotic Cossack organizations approached me at the ceremony in Ruda. They asked me if I could start making a motion picture about the Battle of Konotop, because this topic is extremely relevant, as pro-Russian forces are preparing to create their own version of reading the history of the Battle of Konotop using Ukrainian money.
– Is it different from the Ukrainian one?
– Yes, it differs – and by a lot. For Ukrainians, the Battle of Konotop is a story of our success that we can rightfully be proud of. For the consolidation of the Ukrainian nation, Konotop is what Teutoburg is for the Germans or Grunwald is for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And Moscow cannot live with the fact that our ancestors inflicted an extremely painful defeat back then – so Moscow cover the theme of the Battle of Konotop diametrically opposite: the numbers of the Moscow army is drastically reduced, the number of losses is underestimated, and the defeat is attributed to chance or the Tatar factor. In addition, we have the silencing of facts that did not fit into this concept, the destruction of documents, the repression of historians who researched this topic. While working on a documentary about Vyhovsky, I learned the shocking truth: the famous Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky was killed for trying to cover the Battle of Konotop. After all, in Moscow he was just working on another volume of his “History of Ukraine-Rus’”, where the Konotop victory was to be described.
– Could this be true?
– You can easily see for yourself by opening the last published volume of the History of Ukraine-Rus’ (the first part of the tenth volume) and make sure that its history literally ends with the events that preceded the Battle of Konotop. Professor Viktor Idzio, working in the Moscow archives in the 1990s, found materials that indicate that Mykhailo Hrushevsky was working on the tenth volume, which should have contained previously unknown documents about the Battle of Konotop. The materials found by Hrushevsky were to become a sensation, because before him there was no comprehensive study of the Konotop battle in Ukraine nor anywhere else in the World. This of course, caused concern among the Kremlin leaders, and Hrushevsky was quickly taken to Kislovodsk, where under the excuse of an operation to remove a carbuncle, he was killed on the operating table. Hrushevsky’s daughter Kateryna, who miraculously managed to publish the first part of the tenth volume after the death of her father (the one that ends with the Treaty of Hadiach), was immediately arrested and later tortured in exile. All materials of the second part of the tenth volume were confiscated and are now hidden in special archives.
– Aren’t you afraid to take up such a dangerous topic?
– I always tackled dangerous topics that others were afraid to talk about; I always discovered something new for Ukrainians. When I was working on the film “Roman Shukhevych”, I opened a hitherto forbidden topic about the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) in the Kuban, about the defeat of Myroslav Sнmchych’s NKVD division and the destruction of its leader General Dergachev, about the liquidation of Hitler’s ally Viktor Lutze by UPA, that Kalashnikov rifle is only a modification of the German Sturmgever-43 machine gun, etc. Some of these topics are now open, and some, such as the UPA’s actions in the Kuban, are still tacitly banned. Just like all my other movies, my film “Ivan Franko’s Viennese Trails. A Journey in Defense of Honor”, which debunked the Putin regime-inspired attempt to portray Ivan Franko as an anti-Semite in Europe, was feared to be aired on central channels. And the film “Brothers” (about the help of Western Ukraine to the starving in Zbruch) is still silenced, because our enemies are not about uniting Ukraine, but dividing it, including ideologically.
– What was the main difficulty in working on the script?
– There are a lot of white spots, contradictory data and distortions in Ivan Vyhovsky’s biography. After all, Moscow historians for centuries destroyed this information or presented it exclusively in a negative way. Therefore, it was necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff, to analyze the facts carefully while researching the subject. It was much easier for me that – while working on the documentary – I had already gathered a unique documentary base which allowed me to cover as objectively as possible the history of the hetman himself, his allies and enemies, as well as the preconditions and course of the battle itself. But I must say, since I was the scientist before I came to the world of cinema, the process of research fascinates me. I study the character’s biography, his motivations, etc. I like to find details that help to better reveal the character of the protagonists. In addition, in a historical film it is very important to convey the atmosphere of the era, and this also required huge research.
– What is the main aspect for you in this story?
– The idea is an epic historical action movie with elements of biographical drama and political thriller. I limited it to the time frame from the death of Bohdan Khmelnytsky to the Konotop victory, as more will simply not fit into the film; the story is so rich that it was necessary to choose the most interesting period.
On the example of the Battle of Konotop, I want to show the high combat effectiveness of the military organization of Cossack Ukraine back then, which allowed it to not only resist the powerful military machine of the Moscow Empire, but also to defeat it. Therefore, there will be many military battle scenes in the film. In fact, it will be an epic picture like “Troy”, but with a victorious ending. In addition, if Troy was protected from the enemy by powerful walls, the fortifications of Konotop during the reign of artillery were not so significant, an important role was played by the fighting spirit and martial arts of the defenders. After all, in terms of the ratio of Ukrainian and Moscow forces near Konotop, this defense far exceeds even the widely spread Battle of Stalingrad. Each Cossack was attacked by 200 enemies, and one cannon was attacked by 50 cannons of the enemies. And with this ratio, our ancestors effectively resisted the enemy for more than two months and adhered to the arrival of the hetman, and then by joint efforts defeated the invaders. To the great annoyance of Moscow historians, there were no Tatars in Konotop, it was defended by Ukrainians. Therefore, all the talk that the Tatar horde was the key to the Konotop victory is a myth invented by Kremlin writers.
– Have you already chosen actors for the film and how do you select them?
– I don’t want to voice the whole line-up yet as that will be for later; I’ll just say that the main role will be played by the Honored Artist of Ukraine Orest Ogorodnyk. I saw his acting in the movies and in the theater. He is just a fantastic actor who creates an atmosphere of a powerful Cossack energy and best suits the role.
Who supported your project?
– The film project was supported by a number of public organizations in Ukraine and abroad. Currently, we are raising funds. Everyone can get acquainted with the project on our Facebook page. In the future, every Ukrainian will be able to join the creation of this film with their money, knowledge, work, talent and resources. I am convinced that this film will become a truly national film project.
– Do you hope to change Ukrainian society with your film?
– Of course. Let’s recall how the film “Braveheart” influenced the Scots, and how in general in the world the image of the Scotsman is associated with this film, or how the films of Akira Kurosawa influenced the worldview of the Japanese. Ukrainians have not yet realized how important the Konotop victory is for them. There is a tendency from the colonial past to talk about everything in such a gentle way, for example, enemies cannot be called enemies, but rather “opponents” who disappear somewhere, “like dew in the sun”. Instead, our ancestors of Vyhovsky’s time directly called things by their names, clearly distinguished between good and evil, friends and enemies, and with their chests blocked the way for enemies to our land. The film will talk about it.
– Thank you for an interesting conversation. We want your project to see the light of day as soon as possible and reach the audience.
The conversation was led by Jaroszlava Hartyanyi.