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Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War

“Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War”
A woman in Kherson navigates the horrors and absurdities of daily life during Putin’s war on Ukraine. A short film adapted from Olena Astasieva’s personal accounts from the front lines.
I do not need to describe to you the atrocities that Putin’s war on Ukraine has caused. You have seen this in the media. But what you may not have seen is a deeply personal testimonial of the first weeks of war from a middle-aged woman in (then) Russian-occupied Kherson—outside of social media filters and breathless declarations from western news. Within the initial weeks of the war in Ukraine, several Ukrainian writers and playwrights were commissioned to write pieces based upon their personal experiences on the front lines. Olena Astasieva was one of those commissioned writers, and she wrote DICTIONARY OF EMOTIONS IN A TIME OF WAR. I first encountered the powerful words of Olena Astasieva in March 2022, when I was asked to perform them as a theatrical monologue in a staged reading in NYC to raise funds for the war in Ukraine (I am also an actor). It was a deep honor for me, and I have remained incredibly moved by her words: the frankness, the unfiltered processing of emotion, and most of all, how Olena was able to make audiences understand that the sudden war in Ukraine was happening to people who, when they hear bombs falling outside their windows, turn to google to find out what they are supposed to do. I couldn’t seem to shake the power of her words, and so I reached out to Olena (she was currently in exile in Turkey) to introduce myself and share some of the personal responses and reactions that I received after performing her piece each night in NYC. Many of these responses were from Ukrainians, but many were from New Yorkers who were incredibly moved by this new understanding of what was happening in Ukraine. Olena and I began a long conversation back and forth (thank you, Google Translate!) where I learned even more from her. In our conversations, I asked her one day ‘What do you need? What can I do for you? For your family? Please let me know’ and her response: ‘Right now, the thing that I need the most is for Dictionary of Emotions to be heard by as many people as possible in the United States and beyond. I would like Americans and Europeans to know the truth first-hand. The truth about Russia’s aggression. I want them to understand what it felt like when bombs started falling on our heads.’ Within two weeks, I had begun production on the short film Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War. ON STYLE: The film is presented in a nontraditional style through a series of vignettes—each entitled by a word that describe emotional and personal situations experienced since the onset of the war: Fear, Hatred, Love, Cleaning, Guilt, Hunger, etc., alongside dispatches from family and friends from both Ukraine and Russia. In order to preserve the visceral and urgent words of Olena within each vignette, the film is highly stylized and expressionistic in presentation, incorporating elements of illustration/animation, studio art installations, historic archival footage, contemporary war photography, and fragmented recreations of narrative scenes.
12 Minutes
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Leah Loftin


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