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A lively echo from a war zone 

Long Echo
Regissør: Lukasz Lakomy Veronika Glasunowa

Following a Tanzanian taxi driver in a small town in Donetsk province, Ukraine, Long Echo presents a new view of a story that has virtually disappeared from daily news reports in European media.


Frank, a Tanzanian taxi driver who came to the USSR to study, is just one of the colorful characters woven into the Long Echo (2017) – Lukasz Lakomy and Veronika Glasunova's moving portrait of life in a small Ukrainian town at the edge of a war zone.

Frank is an outsider, and his view of the history and contemporary of Dobropolje – a small Russian-speaking mining town in eastern Ukraine about 70 kilometers from the front line of the country's devastating civil war – creates a narrative backbone of the film. Despite the many tragic and heartbreaking stories the characters reveal, it manages to create a bright, lyrical and enduring positive atmosphere.

As part of a collection of Ukrainian and European-produced documentaries focusing on a destructive conflict that is now entering its fourth year, brings Long Echo a new perspective on a story that has almost disappeared from the daily news reports in European media.

Lively characters

The title of the film is taken from the sad and poetic lyrics of a Russian folk song that is played along with the scrolling text. Long Echo offers many layers of meaning – from the distant roar of pomegranate, to the durable nostalgia of the Soviet Union among the elderly residents of the well-kept small apartment blocks of concrete. These constitute the city founded in 1900 to extract the rich coal reserves under the green meadows.

In a balanced, twisted film, we are introduced to a selection of characters who are all – to a greater or lesser extent – engagingly eccentric. 

In an opening sequence in the film, we meet Tatjana Aleksandrovna, who runs a club for singles. She has provided 28 successful pairings, and introduces viewers to the city's history. Marvelous little footnotes follow: The city has a place in Guinness Books of Records to have Europe's shortest tram line (opened in 1968, but is no longer in operation). The film also introduces us to Elena Alekseevna, the general manager of a medical massage institute, which treats men and women with various disorders such as back pain and high blood pressure. 

"I do not get it. If my son is summoned to the military, who is he supposed to fight? "

Then there are the lively young miners who with great enthusiasm and a high sound level – if not particularly clean – perform death metal songs in the town's social club which also huser a small zoo, run with love and affection by Nikolai Nikolayevich.

These – along with Frank's comments – delivered from the driver's seat in his taxi while driving around town in winter, spring and summer, are the film's central characters. Together, they form a warm backdrop to tell an intimate story of the cost of a seemingly insoluble conflict.

A war-torn society

Nevertheless, the war is never far away in Dobropolje. From the grieving mother during a memorial to her son Valodja – killed while serving in the Ukrainian military – begging for peace and love, to Nikolai Nikolayevich's prosaic problem of retrieving a chameleon from a breeder behind the front line in rebel-controlled territory. "Can you get through Donetsk? Is the permitting system still in place? And how much do the chameleons cost? What do they eat? Cockroaches? "

Children are taught how to hit targets with air rifle; at a memorial event, they are encouraged to remember the victims – "teachers and students" – who participated in the protests at Maidan Square in Kiev in 2014, and who  "Later formed the armed groups that met the enemy on our own soil."

Dobro oil – which Frank tells early in the film – is located in a region inhabited by Russians, immigrants who came to Ukraine to work in the mines and factories. They are strictly Russian-speaking (all the main characters speak Russian and are obviously ethnically Russian). 

Strong emotions

The pain and despair the war is causing is a subtitle throughout the film. It is most clearly expressed during a small meal at the club with Tatjana Aleksandrovna and others as she gives her emotions free run in a tearful outburst.

"I do not get it. If my son is summoned to the military, who is he supposed to fight? "

«My grandchildren were born here… My children live here… We love Ukraine. Ukraine has given us shelter. My daughter's husband is Ukrainian… My grandchildren are Ukrainian… And now we are going to fight against Russia? »

In a balanced, twisted film, we are introduced to a variety of characters.

"I do not understand how it came to be. How can my relatives in Russia shoot at me? And how can we be expected to shoot at our relatives? I can not imagine it. It's awful and it hurts… We want peace. We need no war. We have already lost a daughter. If we lose all our children, what is there left to live for? ”

Blame on the Kremlin

The pain of civil war also appears when members of the death metal band Rage of Madness – all Russian-speaking – talk about how they relate to and never know when a rocket attack may occur in their city. And from the pictures of sun-drenched houses filmed during a bus ride around town, it is clear how close the Dobropolje war has come. 

One of the band members, Dimon, insists that the Russian army shoot at targets near Dobropolje, while others shout: "Come on, Dimon, cut out!" Dimon defends himself, saying they are afraid to admit that the Russians support the rebels. "They do not want to say that Russia is attacking us. It's not Russia – it's their system… Kremlin. We are still friends with the Russians, it is their government that is to blame. "

Long Echo ends with brief notes on the background stories of the most important characters, and reveals details of the dreams they have for the future. Faith in them is what keeps people alive, at the edge of a war zone. 

Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworth
Holdsworth is a writer, journalist and filmmaker.

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