Darya Bassel, a Ukrainian film producer and a programmer with the country’s largest documentary film festival, fears she may have left her home in Kyiv for the last time after fleeing the city earlier on Thursday, hours after Russia invaded the country.
“Today when I was leaving my flat in Kyiv, I was thinking, Am I going to go back here? Or is this the last time that I’m here?” Bassel told TheWrap. “It’s a feeling that all my friends are sharing. People with whom I talked over the last 24 hours, nobody knows what’s next and what the next day will bring.”
Bassel spoke with TheWrap from a safe location shortly after midnight in Ukraine, after traveling further West into the country, fearing that more bombings from the Russian military would hit the capital city of Kyiv later that night. Bassel evacuated along with her husband, who is also a filmmaker and cinematographer, as well as her children and a separate family of friends, after being offered a place to stay for the night by other friends.
For now, Bassel remains hopeful that they won’t have to leave the country altogether. But she’s additionally concerned about what Russia’s invasion means for her husband now that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a full military mobilization. And she has many friends still in Kyiv, either remaining in their homes, in shelters or even in the subways where they feel are the safest from missile attacks.
“Everybody is really afraid and shocked, and no one can believe this is really happening to us,” Bassel said. “It’s quite terrible, and maybe we were naive, but nobody actually believed until the very last moment that something like that could happen, because we all thought such things are just part of the old history, and we could not imagine that someone could come to your home and try and take it from you.”
Bassel is the co-producer of “A House Made of Splinters,” a documentary that just won a prize at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, and she’s also worked as a programmer for the last 10 years with the Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival team, the largest documentary film festival in Ukraine.
The 19th edition of Docudays was scheduled to take place in Kyiv between March 23 through April 3, but the festival has been put on hold “until martial law is suspended and Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine stops,” the festival said in a statement Thursday.
Bassel said she was hopeful some version of the festival could proceed, even in a virtual format, until the invasion. But much of the programming team remains in Kyiv, and all day on Thursday, Bassel and her team received hundreds of emails from international film festivals around the world offering to screen Ukrainian documentary films to raise awareness about the truth of the attack on the country.
Bassel feels the situation now is “much, much worse” than the Ukrainian revolution in 2013 and 2014, and the impact of the invasion on the country’s film community and industry is the furthest thing from her mind. “Of course, the festival cannot be the priority at the time, but I don’t know, maybe the next day will bring us some hope. We’ll see,” she said. “Everything is upside down, and each new day, your world changes rapidly and drastically, and you’re just not able to plan anything.”
Ultimately, Bassel had strong words for Vladimir Putin’s Russian government and urged the rest of the world to denounce the Russian aggression. “I really do hope that people understand that this is a big, huge war, it is like the Third World War. A huge injustice is happening right now with Ukrainian people. What Russia is doing to us is just outrageous. I have a feeling they just want to erase the whole Ukrainian population from the Earth,” she said. “I want people all over the world and especially in the U.S. to understand this is not about Ukraine, this is about the whole world, this is about the whole of humanity, and the U.S. government has to take real action.”