“The Donbass Children” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with Lubomir Dankov

2023 December 3

“The Donbass Children” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with Lubomir Dankov

-Who is Lubomir Dankov? What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I was born and I live in Bulgaria. I would describe myself as an amateur journalist and an amateur filmmaker, as my work is related to specific causes and I am not working for pay. My activity as a civil activist started in 2014, and journalism and filmmaking are part of it. The Donbass Children is my first film. It is a part of an information project about the war on the territory of Ukraine, which I started in 2016. Now I am working on several more films, some of which are on the same subject.

-What prompted you to make your film?

I first went to Ukraine at the beginning of 2016. I knew that there was a war in the eastern part of the country, of course, but my information about this war was too superficial, at that time there was little talk about it in the media. After that first visit, my interest in the country intensified, I started looking for information about the conflict. I saw that there were many conflicting opinions and positions on this topic on the one hand, and a strange silence in the mainstream on the other. I don’t know why, but I got some strong urge to go there and try as a journalist to find out what exactly is the truth about the events in Donbass.

You know, recently and now there are many armed conflicts in the world. People usually accept these conflicts as a fact, as something that happens far away from them and that they cannot influence them, so they do not engage strongly with them. It is quite different when you get to the scene of the conflict and see everything with your own eyes. Then you can hardly remain indifferent.

After my first visit to Donetsk, where I stayed for a week, I already felt strongly involved in the fate of the people living in the war zone and decided to do everything possible to reach at least my compatriots with truthful information about this armed conflict.

If I had to tell you now in a few sentences what was happening in Donbass before the involvement of Russia in the war, it would be the following:

There were forces in Ukraine that wanted the country to become part of the European Union. There was also external pressure for this. In 2013, Yanukovych’s government postponed the signing of the association agreement with the union, due to the latter’s refusal to negotiate a more clearly defined economic part of the agreement. Then began protests by supporters of European integration, known as “Maidan”. These protests crossed the boundaries of legality, the center of Kyiv became a real battlefield. In February 2014, an agreement was reached between the opposition supporting the protests and the authorities for early elections and an end to the riots. But literally hours after the signing of the agreement, supporters of European integration seized the government buildings with weapons, President Yanukovych fled to the eastern part of the country, and the opposition, which took power this way, appointed a new president. This was practically a classic armed coup.

After the coup, the country was thrown into chaos, protests and counter-protests started, people were turned against each other by the media. A beginning of a civil war was visible. The culmination of this opposition was the tragedy in Odessa, where crowds of supporters of European integration burned with Molotov cocktails dozens of opponents of the counter-protest, amid “aggressive apathy” of the authorities. Interventions along geopolitical lines were also not long in coming, with the USA and the EU on one side and Russia on the other taking opposite positions regarding what is happening in the country.

Meanwhile, Russia, spurred by the prospect of the strategic naval base falling under US control, helped organize a referendum in Crimea and returned the peninsula to its fold. In two of the country’s eastern regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, where dissent from the coup in Kiev was the greatest, activists followed the example of the capital, seized power and declared independent republics.

The Kyiv authorities decided to take back the two breakaway regions by force and sent heavy military equipment to the area. But instead of heading to the activists of the new republics, they began indiscriminate shelling and mass slaughter of civilians. Familiar, right? Israel is doing the same now in Gaza.

After that, two peace agreements were signed, the first – completely unsuccessful, the second, Minsk-2, partially successful, because it ended the hottest phase of the civil war in the country, but did not end the conflict, which continued in a positional phase.

Then, when I was making this film, it was already clear that the peace agreement would not be implemented because none of the warring parties wanted it. But none of the guarantors and supporters of Ukraine sought or offered another solution.

Now back to my motivations for making this film… As I mentioned before, it’s much harder to remain indifferent to the plight of people suffering from war when you go to them and immerse yourself in their tragedy. I wanted to show people in our country and in Europe the terrorism to which the peaceful inhabitants of Donbas were subjected and what suffering their silence and unprincipled support for the Ukrainian authorities bring them.

The US and the European Union have a huge responsibility for the growth of this conflict, because they provided media comfort for all the crimes of the Kyiv regime against their own citizens and because they supported it financially. The European Union alone has given over €16 billion to the Ukrainian authorities until Russia joins the war in 2022.

At that time, I had some illusions that such a film could break through the information blockade, help inform the societies of Europe about the real situation in the conflict area and push politicians to help find a lasting peaceful solution.

I must have been too naive. The West was simply looking for reasons for sanctions against Russia and ways to weaken the country, so this conflict and the use of Ukraine as a tool in the confrontation with Russia were sought and desired. It was clear that Russia would get involved in this war near its borders and in which ethnic Russians were victims. And when that happened, all this hysteria started in the US and Europe that you’re very familiar with.

-What did you achieve and what did you fail to achieve with this film?

The film failed to reach the general public. It was simply ignored and stifled. I offered it completely free to the mainstream media in our country, to no avail. I distribute it

mainly through Facebook. As I mentioned, my main idea was to urge the politicians in our country and in Europe to cooperate for a peaceful solution to the conflict. I have repeatedly suggested to our leading politicians to invite the parties to a new round of peace negotiations in our country, in Sofia. But the West achieved what it wanted – the war went beyond the borders of Donbass, and Russia was brought into it.

My film had a good reception at film festivals, so far it has won awards from 135 festivals. This was not the end in itself, I used the festivals so that the film could reach some audience after all.

The film didn’t live up to its goals, but I tried my best. Others have their hands stained with blood. I hope the whole truth about this war will one day become available to all.

-Do you think the cinema can bring a change in the society?

Of course, the cinema can have a great influence on the formation of a child, of a person. A human is built as a person through the example of others. Imitation is an important element for all mammals, including humans. A role model can be taken not only from the people who surround us, but also from characters on the screen. But for the cinema to have any influence, it must occupy a sufficient place in the life of the young person concerned. In modern society, parents have less and less time to communicate with their children, which opens the possibility for this influence of the cinematography, but I am not sure that today’s children fall under the influence of good and quality films. Great competition of the cinematography for the time of teenagers is also funny, as well as low-quality productions of various vloggers and influencers, as well as low-quality television productions.

I can give you an example from our country. Back in the days when there were controls on film distribution and no internet, some of the things that are happening now were unthinkable. I’m talking, for example, about aggression, including the one between girls. When the market entered art, it produced bad results. There was some kind of mass simplification, in my opinion.

On the other hand, if we talk about documentary cinema, I think it can have a great influence on society with the information it gives to people. Here the influence can also be in different directions. If certain points of view are hidden and propaganda (in the bad sense of the word) is encouraged and tolerated, the influence can be strong but negative.

-What would you change in the world?

It’s a complicated question. The whole world (I’m talking about our planet) is built on antagonism. From the lowest organisms to the highest – everyone survives in a struggle with others, the stronger eats the weaker. This has been carried over into human society. For some, war is suffering, for others – a source of profits. Why is it that a small number of people, pursuing some personal gain, can force huge masses of people to fight each other, without realizing that they are mere puppets or tools in the hands of others? And how can this be changed? How can we live together without someone “eating” the weaker one? I’m not sure I have the answer for this neither that I know what needs to be done. And the worst thing is that any idea can be misused and its effect turned 180 degrees.

Maybe I would change something in people’s “chip”. I would make the people who fight for good more aggressive, more assertive, but also more cooperative, more inclined to unite. Well, it can’t just happen, unfortunately.

-Where do you see the film industry going in the next 100 years?

I recently watched a cartoon. It featured an impactful story, a tale for grown-ups. The film is called “Florentine Night” and it is by a Bulgarian author. The film was painstakingly made, if it weren’t for the characters that were deliberately created “as if painted”, I might have mistaken it for a feature film. I wondered if the film would have had more of an impact if it had been shot with actors. I think not. It would most likely be worse, even with serious money put into it. I think this is the future of cinematography, for better or for worse. One author and one computer, possibly with the help of a small team of painters and cameramen. With the advancement of artificial intelligence, such a computer-generated film will be indistinguishable from current feature films.

This may sound like fantasy to many, but that’s what the idea of the videophone sounded like 40 years ago. And now everyone can talk and see their interlocutor on their phone, and this does not surprise anyone.

The positive thing about this development is the opportunity for everyone to show their potential and make a quality feature film without the need for colossal funds. This gives freedom to the creator. After all, what matters in a film is the idea, the message, the impact. Not so much in what technical way it was produced. With the help of the many film festivals, such a film can be noticed and reach a wide audience if it has merit, even if it is made by a completely unknown author with modest means.

There is a lot of theorizing here, of course, I do not deny the possibility of favoritism to certain projects due to someone’s interference. I would even be surprised if this is avoided, but this is already another topic.

Feature films being made in the present way are likely to follow the fate of film photography. Now there are still people who shoot a film, I do it too, but it remains more of an elitist activity without mass practical value.

And as for documentary cinematography… Yes, here there is rather a danger of manipulations and creation of a false reality for all kinds of events. How this problem will be solved… remains to be seen. All of this will probably make it to the cinematography long before the 100 years are up.