Bitter Harvest (2016)

Today we watched a movie about Holodomor, the Ukrainian terror-famine which occurred during 1932-1933 and killed millions of Ukranians. The story centers around a young man named Yuri who lives in rural Ukraine with his Orthodox Christian family. Yuri comes from a family of warriors however, Yuri has a passion for drawing and dreams of becoming a great artist, much to the chagrin of his grandfather, who constantly criticizes Yuri for his lack of warrior spirit. While running away from the Bolsheviks Yuri’s father, Yuroslav, dies, leaving Yuri alone to care for his mother and his aging grandfather. The Bolsheviks, led by a Commissar Sergei, rush into Yuri’s town to collectivize lands and install higher quotas. Shortly after marrying his longtime crush, Natalka, Yuri leaves for Kiev, at mother’s bidding to launch his career as an artist but without his beloved wife. When Yuri arrives in Kiev, he meets his friend Mykola, who is a communist Stalin propaganda mouthpiece, who rationalizes the mass starvation of Ukrainians as necessary for the revolution. Yuri is accepted into the academy in Kiev where his work is criticized for being to perfect. He is encouraged to express himself through his dreams. His teacher is later shipped to Siberia and Yuri is forced to leave the academy because of his subversive artwork Stalin gives the order to imprison all Ukrainian party leaders, Mykola, regretting his blind allegiance to Stalin, commits suicide. While at Myloka’s funeral, Yuri is attacked by Soviet soldiers and imprisoned in a Soviet jail for murder. While in jail, Yuri is taunted by his captors and later he is able lure the warden with his artistic skills in order to kill him and escape the prison.

Meanwhile, Natalka, who is now pregnant, has been asked to prostitute herself for Commissar Sergie, but she poisons him and later begins to organize a resistance against the occupying Bolshevik soldiers. As a result, Natalka and Yuri’s grandfather are imprisoned and in exchange for freedom, Natalka gives Commissar Sergei the icon of St. Yuri, which Yuri’s father stole before his death. Yuri finds friends to fight with against the Soviets, but they are severely outmatched and outgunned and he befriends a young orphan named Lubko and they take a train to a forest. He takes hostage a Soviet soldier and later finds a kulak—rich private farmer who used to live in Yuri’s hometown before he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Together, they journey to the town of Yuri’s birth.

Later Yuri and Natalka reunite, and Natalka reveals that she miscarried the baby. Though saddened by this loss, Yuri and Natalka decide to adopt Lubko. The newly formed family organizes a resistance in order to free the grandfather from jail, who was not released by the Bolshevik when Natalka gave the Icon of St. Yuri to the soldiers. The grandfather is ultimately killed but Lubko, Yuri, and Natalka escape the village into the forest, Soviets soldiers closely tailing them. The movie ends with Lubko, Yuri and Natalka jumping into a lake, with Soviet soldiers shooting at them from behind.

In my opinion, the movie wasn’t bad. I thought that there would be more of a focus on the intentional starvation of the Ukrainians during the Five-Year Plan. However, the movie emerged as a wholistic narrative of the genocide that depicted the point of view of not only Ukrainian peasant farmers but the Ukrainian intelligentsia as well. I thought that the directors put more of an emphasis on the love story between Yuri and Natalka in order to drive the plot and the Holodomor was just the setting in which it took place, so it fell a little flat.

For more information on Holodomor, here’s a link:

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