Language / Język: wersja polska

I decided that the subject of Ukraine is thrilling enough, and also important to me, that it required an extensive and thorough study...



Director Jerzy Hoffman
Screenplay Jerzy Hoffman, Tadeusz Iwański
Producer Jerzy R. Michaluk, Elena Kolomijcenko
Pictures Jarosław Żamojda, Bohdan Wierzbickij
Music Krzesimir Dębski
Production Managers
Józef Jarosz, Wolodymyr Kniaziew
Sound Piotr Knop
Editing Marcin Erol
Stage design Serhij Khotimskij
Historical consultations Prof. Borys Woźnickij, Prof. Jurij Czarnobaj, Janusz Pulnar
Scientific consultations
Prof. Serhij Plochij, Prof. Oleksij Toloczko, Dr Hab. Ola Hnatiuk
Scientific consultations Prof. Roman Szporluk, Prof. George Grabowycz
Historical guidelines "The HISTORY OF UKRAINE" Prof. Natalia Jakowenko, Prof. Jarosław Hrycak

Movie description


FILM I – duration 50 minutes


The first part of the four-part series «The Ukraine. The Birth of a Nation» spans the period from ancient times till the end of the XVIII century. The beginning of the film focuses round the Ukrainian declaration of independence in 1991 and the celebrations surrounding the13th anniversary of that event. Jerzy Hoffman’s team were eager to find out whether the issue of the country’s independence would have been solved as unanimously as in 1991, when over 90% of the population said “Yes” to independence. Various opinions on the subject were recorded though nobody could predict that three months the Kyiv Maydan would leave no doubts whatsoever on the issue.

The historical part of the film opens with the vast panorama of the Steppe and the Dnieper, the two elements that have determined the lives of the inhabitants of those lands for many centuries. The introduction of Christianity in 988 and the formation of a powerful state – Kyiv Rus marked the beginning Euro-centric history for the Eastern Slavs. Paradoxically,  250 years later, after the Tartar-Mongol invasion the state of Kyiv Rus ceased to exist, it was that very Mongol occupation that induced the formation of three nations – the Ukrainians, the Russians and the Byelorussians. European influences were to regain influence when the Ukrainian lands were occupied by the Poles and Lithuanians and annexed by the Rzeczpospolita of the Two Nations. Kyiv returned to its former splendour and, owing to Petro Mohyla and others, Ukrainian culture would develop in tandem to European culture.

The famous Wild Field bordering on the Crimean Khanate gave birth to the Cossack phenomenon. In 1552 Dmytro Vyshnevetsky-Bayda founded the Zaporizhian Sich – free Cossacks’ community. A little less than 100 years later, after fierce battles with Poland, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky established a Cossack state called the Zaporizhian Army, which, according to the Pereyaslav Treaty, would be incorporated into Russia but maintain its autonomy. Although, in the event, independence was not preserved, the memory of Khmelnytsky and their own independent state has constituted a fundamental myth for the contemporary Ukraine, while the valiant Cossack served as a central figure in the national consciousness of the Ukrainians.

Hetman Ivan Mazepa was the last figure to try to regain Ukrainian independence. But the Russia of Peter the First proved to be too powerful, and Mazepa was defeated, despite having formed an alliance with Sweden. Empress Catherine II finalized the process of dismantling an autonomous Ukraine: she annulled the remnants of the Cossack autonomy and, in 1775, abolished the Zaporizhian Sich.



PART II – duration 50 minutes –


The second part of the four-part series «The Ukraine. The Birth of a Nation» spans the period from the late XVIII century till the beginning of the XX century; the time between the French Revolution and World War I, the so-called «long XIX century», a comparatively peaceful period in Eastern Europe following the Napoleonic wars. At that time, intellectual nationalist movements started to form in the Romanov and Habsburg empires; they proclaimed ideas of self-sufficiency and national identity. The XIX century is the century of the nations of the present-day Eastern Europe, the century when the contemporary Ukrainian nation was born.

Upon the abolition of the Hetmanate and the Zaporizhian Sich the Cossacks ceased to exist as a class, and many of their descendants became assimilated to imperial society. At the court in Saint Petersburg they were awarded positions of chancellors, marshals and ministers, or, like Nikolai Gogol, entered into history as outstanding Russian writers. A new class was formed in the Ukraine – the intelligentsia, who would preserve Ukrainian traditions and inspire the modernization processes: the struggle for civil rights and the cultural autonomy of the Ukrainians both in the Russian and the Austrian Empires.

The slogans of the French Revolution – the republican ideas of freedom and elimination of the class system and national oppression – would inspire the Russian and Ukrainian «Decembrists». The reverberations of those ideals could be distinctly heard in the programmes of «The Rus Trinity» in Galicia and Kyiv’s society of Cyril and Methodius, whose leaders Panteleymon Kulish, Mykola Kostomarov and Taras Shevchenko called for the abolition of serfdom and a guarantee for the free development of every national culture.

The XIX century is dominated by the two major intellectual trends – Romanticism and Positivism. In Ukrainian literature there is the great Taras Shevchenko, – a gifted artist, an outstanding poet and the prophet of the national awakening, who gave the Ukrainians the necessary spiritual inspiration in their fight for freedom. Throughout the following decade, the narodniks-positivists, by establishing schools, reading-halls and libraries in hamlets and villages, would propagate the great poet’s ideas among the ordinary people. The second greatest Ukrainian man of letters, Ivan Franko, would contribute to the growth of the Ukrainians’ national consciousness by his poetry, prose and pamphlets.

The growing consciousness of national identity and the ensuing tension between the suppressed and the dominant nations in Eastern Europe turned out to be one of the crucial causes for the outbreak of World War I in 1914. On the other hand, the class conflict that had been imminent for many years, together with the horrors of the war and general misfortune, resulted in the Bolshevick revolution in Russia in 1917. In 1918 the Ukraine declared   independence, with Professor Mykhaylo Hrushevsky as its spokesman. Independence was  defended for three years by the forces of Chieftain Petlura, Hetman Skoropadsky and the Ukrainian Galician Army. Unfortunately, the strength and aggression of neighbouring states, together with internal discord, brought all those efforts to naught. The Ukraine emerged from the chaos of the war and the revolution not as an independent entity but as a part of the Soviet Russia, Poland, Rumania and Czechoslovakia. Had the Ukrainian Revolution been utterly defeated? History was to show that those enormous efforts had not been wasted.



PART III – duration 50 minutes –


The third part of the four-part series «The Ukraine. The Birth of a Nation» spans the period from the 1921 Riga Peace Treaty which marked the cessation of hostilities in Eastern Europe   up to the Yalta Conference in 1945, which re-drew state borders and determined the zones of influence in Europe after the Second World War.

The Polish-Bolshevick war of 1920 caused the greatest change in state borders in Eastern Europe. The Bolshevick government formed the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from the lands of central, eastern and southern Ukraine. In 1922 that Republic incorporated into the Soviet Union. The remainder  was annexed by Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania.

The totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union subjected Ukrainians to a period of intense social engineering,  the results of which became engraved in the structure and mentality of the Ukrainian people. The New Economic Policy (NEP) provided relative freedom in the economy and trade, as well as comparative well-being in towns and villages. The policy of «Ukrainization» brought about an unprecedented surge in national consciousness, and in many ways the Ukraine became into a fully fledged, consolidated nation. But the 30s were marked by a dramatic change in  politics, and all the important gains of the previous decade were crushed. «The great transformations» did create a huge industrial potential in the Ukraine – but at the price of exterminating the nationally conscious elites of the country, cultural and agrarian, who were either executed or exiled to the GULAGS.  The Ukrainian village lost its traditional character in the course of collectivization, during which small hold farms were turned into collective farms, and the farmer himself became apathetic. 

Other fates were to meet those Ukrainians who happened to become citizens of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania. The most freedom was given to them by the government in Prague, while Warsaw and Bucharest resorted to a policy of assimilation. Nevertheeless,
Ukrainians in Halychyna (Galicia) managed to gain undeniable successes in cultural, social and economic spheres. Unfortunately, Polish-Ukrainian relations in the Poland of the 30s were overshadowed by the conflict between the growing tendencies towards autocracy and ethnocentricity among the Polish power base, on the one hand, and the nationalistic radicalism of the Ukrainian underground OUN (Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists), on the other hand. Escalation of the conflict into acts of extreme violence occured took place in Volyn and Halychyna in 1943 – 1944.

The Ukraine suffered unprecedented losses during the World War II. Millions of the Ukrainians were killed on both the sides of the frontline – as soldiers of the Allies, German units, communist guerilla detachments, or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. About 700 towns and over 28,000 villages were destroyed in the Ukraine. Losses among the civilian population amounted to 5.5 million.

However, not all the results of the Second World War were as disastrous. For the sake of propaganda and in order to preserve the appearance of sovereignty, Stalin introduced the Ukraine to the UNO as a founder member. But the most significant point was the fact that the territories, that had been the parts of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania before the war, fell within the state borders of the Ukrainian SSR. In that fashion, for the first time in many centuries, the Ukrainian lands became reunite




FILM IV – duration 50 minutes


Film IV of the four-part series « The Ukraine. The Birth of a Nation » spans a period of sixty years: from the end of the Second World War and the Yalta Conference of 1945, through to the declaration of an independent Ukraine in 1991, up to the presidential election and the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Post-war Ukraine,  as one of the Soviet Union republics,  incorporated almost all the territory populated by Ukrainians. The war had totally ruined Ukraine’s economy and social structure. Casualties, the Holocaust, migration, forced deportations and post-war repression resulted in the Ukraine’s losing the multinational character of its population.
Accelerated indusrialization and reconstruction of the Soviet Ukraine on the one hand, and political repression, particularly violent in Western Ukraine, on the other hand, relaxed with the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. The new leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced his predecessor’s crimes and methods, owing to which a period known as the «Thaw» was observed in the domestic policy of the Soviet Union. In the Ukraine that period was marked by the flourishing of a young and energetic generation of revisionist intellectuals, called the Sixtyists, who demanded the right for Ukrainian culture to develop freely. However, at the beginning of the 70s opposition forces were suppressed, and the new leadership of the Soviet Ukraine in the person of Volodymyr Shcherbytsky gave full support for the Russification of most fields of  social life in Ukraine.

The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 caused a shock, which turned into an important catalyst for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The policy of “perestroika” and “glasnost” proclaimed by Mikhail Gorbachev went beyond its prescribed limits. The nationally conscious democratic opposition in the Union’s republics,  together with the party elite, promptly proclaimed independence in  the ruins of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian parliament announced the declaration of Ukraine’s independence in August 1991, and in December of the same year over 90% of the Soviet Ukraine’s population  confirmed their support of the proclamation in a  General referendum; Ukraine’s independence became a fact; a week later the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The great euphoria of independence was soon supplanted by pessimism caused by the difficulties of transformation. Although the Ukraine did succeed in establishing itself on the international arena as an independent state, its political system did not avoid certain striking weaknesses. The attempt to falsify the results of presidential election in 2004 induced the outbreak of the Orange Revolution. Millions of people all over Ukraine rose against the authorities’ abuse of power to express their will to live in a truly free and democratic country. Will the Orange Revolution change the Ukraine for long? Will the ideas of Kyiv’s Maydan set a positive model for people and power? The development of events in the near future will provide the answer.

Explication of the director

In Spring 2004 I accidentally read a book written by the then President Leonid Kuczma titled ‘Ukraine is not Russia’. The title surprised me.

For Polish people, it seems obvious that Ukraine is a completely different country and culture than Russia. However, having read the book, a lot of reflections came to my mind. Eventually I started thinking of making a film about the birth of the Ukrainian nation.
This fascinating lecture, this trip to the past centuries brought me new emotions, feelings and experiences. Now I want to share them with you.

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