By Stephanie Ornelas
Addressing war and conflict, regardless of location in the world, is always a daunting task for filmmakers when addressing the affected people of the region where the turmoil unfolds. Director/writer Maryna Er Gorbach’s film, Klondike, manages to dissect and present the realities of the war unfolding on the Ukrainian Russian border through the lens of a pregnant woman very close to giving birth, fighting to be unaffected by the calamities that surround her.
Oxana Cherkashyna turns in a tremendous performance as Irka, a woman navigating unknown territory of being caught in a war zone while trying to ignore a possibly bleak future. Her performance highlights the drastically different approach to war and conflict from the male and female perspective.
When their house gets partially destroyed through a mortar accident caused by anti-Ukrainian rebels, her husband,Tolik, gets accused of being a separatist by her brother, who tries to convince her to flee the town. In the midst of it all, the tragedies surrounding the commercial airliner MH17 getting shot down by the Russian military, literally come crashing down on their land, as parts of fuselage and human wreckage are scattered about.
As the situation worsens and Russian soldiers overtake the town, it’s clear they must leave, but Irka refuses. The complexities of multiple devices unfold as to how trauma and fear are dealt with differently by humans; men tend to resort to the traditional mold of conflict by pursuing one side over the other, whereas women have not always fallen into line the same way.
The unconventional manner in which Irka is dealing with pregnancy, trauma, war, stress, familial conflict and various other issues by refusing to do what is expected of her, outlines the immense power Gorbach suggests women have in managing adversity and maintaining resiliency.
During the Q&A after the premiere, Gorbach talks about how she drew a lot of inspiration from her own life:
“All of us in the Ukraine were stressed about the situation because the war was starting and I had a newborn baby,” says Gorbach. “And then there was this huge aircraft catastrophe.”
Gorbach explains that because of where she was located, she was informed to evacuate but at the time it was very hard for her to make that decision.
“As time passed after the catastrophe, the news and international media stopped talking about it even though it was still continuing. And that was what gave me the inspiration to make Klondike,” she says.
The role of Irka (Cherkashyna) is clearly a demanding role full of strength and vulnerability.
“I was thinking a lot about the resistance we as Ukrainians can have now in this war conflict,” Cherkashyna says. “I also learned that tenderness and caring could be our resistance to the violence we’re facing now. It was something I didn’t get while making the movie, but I understand now.”
Gorbach really wanted to use the project to shine light on how the current situation in the Ukraine is impacting children and families. She does this numerous times throughout the film, leading up to its very powerful ending that leaves the audience hanging with one very important question.
“This is an artistic piece that reflects what people in the Ukraine are going through, especially the children and the babies who are living there,” says Gorbach. “I think it’s very important to have this question at the end of the film.”
For years women have been finding ways to forge new paths forward, and Irka’s stout resistance to abandoning her home, her beliefs, her moral compass, highlight the importance of resilience and standing your ground.