DIRECTOR: IVAN OSTROCHOVSKY, PAVOL PEKARCIK STARRING: NIKITA TYSHCHENKO, VIKTORIIA MATS, YANA YEVDOKYMOVA RUNNING TIME: 1 HR 10 MINUTES
12 year old Niki and 11 year old Vika are hiding from the terrifying war at a Kharkiv metro station. Daylight is synonymous with mortal danger, and they are not allowed to leave, living under the constant glow of their neon lights.
Photophobia is the International Feature submission for Slovakia. The film takes place in Kharkiv, in February, as the Russian forces begin their attack in Ukraine. Twelve year old Nikita, along with his parents and sister, take shelter in the metro station to protect themselves from the raging war outside. The booming explosions are constant. The airstrikes are beginning to happen and the shelling is non-stop. Along with this family of four, there are more than 1,500 other people underground with them. Women, men, the elderly, the young, even cats and dogs, have all made this place their home.
A month has now gone by. Nikita is meeting up with the doctor due to his skin becoming extremely dehydrated. In addition, he’s now showing forms of weakness and lethargy. What he really needs is to get some sun and some fresh air but that still isn’t an option. It’s too risky and his mother forbids it. In the midst of all this though, Nikita meets an eleven year old girl named Vika. Soon after their metro station becomes their playground, an area to run around, have some fun, listen to TikTok videos or music, and escape their everyday reality.
This fiction-documentary looks at the war in Ukraine through the eyes of two children, and their families, who are searching for a little bit of sunshine. Life isn’t easy for these innocent people who’ve taken refuge in this subway station. Their choice though is either living in discomfort, or dying from a missile. Photophobia commits to showing the realities faced by far too many people who are simply trying to survive in an impossible situation. The film captures people who were forced to leave everything behind, from one day to the next. Their fight to live another day is a blessing that most of us take for granted.
The film though isn’t trying to show the brutal realities that the Ukrainian people are facing but rather it shows a glimmer of a brighter future. It actively shows the joy in the small moments that Nikita and Vika have during the day, as they play around in their makeshift homes. People can be seen singing and dancing, and cooking, and playing soccer or playing with their pets. It’s a much needed distraction as the sounds from what’s above is always heard in the distance. It is a genuine love letter of the strength of humans, finding the tender moments during so much anguish. “Will the children remember all this?” A positive attitude can help one forget everything.
As the war continues to force people to hide underground, we all hope, that one day, they will be able to face their fear and step back outside into the light, and erase their fear of photophobia.