Vita Tomakhiv interviews Oleksander, a soldier in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in the summer at Kramatorsk, a city in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, for a documentary. Vita Tomakhiv photo

Vita Tomakhiv of Kyiv never planned to leave Ukraine, but then the Russian military invaded. With help from the University of Maine, she fled in June 2022, four months after the war broke out to continue her education.

As the Russia-Ukraine war raged on, Tomakhiv, a master’s student in global policy, yearned to help the people on the front lines by sharing their stories. A year after she left, she returned to her home country to capture the experiences of Ukrainian soldiers through a media she had never worked in: documentary film, according to a news release from Marcus Wolf at UMaine.

In “Dimension of the War: those who hold the Independence of Ukraine,” available on YouTube, Tomakhiv interviewed four members of the 67th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who were stationed in Kramatorsk, a city in the Donetsk region located next to the eastern front. The soldiers answered questions about the conditions of the front lines, the reasons they joined the fight, the lives they left behind, their work, their fears, the struggles of war and their hopes for the future.

“For me, it was important to show that these people could have continued their lives as usual and their careers if not for this war,” Tomakhiv said. “But they chose to go to the war, not because they hate Russia, but because they love Ukraine, and they want to protect what they love.”

Tomakhiv filmed the documentary over the summer using only a smartphone and tripod to record interviews. She then spent 30 hours editing the footage with a smartphone app.

To pursue the project, Tomakhiv contacted a friend in the Ukrainian Armed Forces who, after an extensive process, secured her access to Kramatorsk and the troops. She then traveled 17 hours from Ternopil in western Ukraine, where she was staying with her parents, to Kramatorsk by train. During a layover in Kyiv, air sirens began to blare out and she and other people were escorted to a nearby basement where they stayed for a couple of hours for protection from potential bombings.


The documentary was not only Tomakhiv’s first foray in film production, but also her first experience in an active war zone, although she previously interviewed Ukrainian military personnel during journalism and government internships.

After earning her master’s degree at UMaine, Tomakhiv hopes to work for a nonprofit or humanitarian organization dedicated to supporting Ukraine during and after the war from there or elsewhere. She encourages other Ukrainian students studying abroad to use whatever knowledge and skill they acquire to support their country in any way possible, and to never remain silent about the war.

“No matter what your major is, you have to use your voice as a Ukrainian,” she said.


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