The Ukrainian Christians in Back to Bucha Are Just Like Those in the USA.
By Steve Richards
As we were editing Back to Bucha (shot in Ukraine at the beginning of 2023) it became clear that the original 76-minute version was more of a Christian film than I thought. The new 56-minute cut is better suited to secular audiences with shorter interviews of clergy and others.
My natural perspective is to look at things from a theological point of view, especially since my time at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale almost ten years ago. I have always looked at the war in Ukraine as a battle joined in a quasi-metaphysical, theological realm. Especially when Putin and religious leaders in Russia talk about the patently absurd purpose of the war was to “de-satanize” Ukraine. Satanism, De-Satanization, and Exorcism in Contemporary Russian Rhetoric: Historical Reflections - Cornell University Press.
Absurd because all I meet in Ukraine are Christians with roots dating back to the 10th century. Even St. Andrew was reportedly a bringer of the Gospels in the first century and is the patron saint of Ukraine (and Russia). Of course, they say the same thing about the west and the USA being run by satanists, so I guess we’re all in cahoots with the devil; as many in the USA might agree, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say audiences of Back to Bucha will see folks just like them along the Christian spectrum we see in America: from agnostics raised by Christian moms and grandmothers to those who attend church once or twice a year, to regular church goers. We also get the perspectives of clergy from Presbyterians to Catholics, to Orthodox, to Charismatic. Most of whom are speaking English. I asked a simple question of all whom I interviewed: “Where is the Spirit in all this?”
So, with all these theological threads in the film I was glad that the Christian aspect of the Ukrainian Spirit made it through as I began screening the film for religious leaders and audiences in my orbit. Here’s one review we received from a Florida based Episcopal/Anglican priest:
As a sequel to Richards’ first documentary journey to Bucha—a town representative of Ukrainian suffering as well as resistance under Russian siege—Back to Bucha is a profound meditation on the experience of loss and return, and the significance of place for human meaning and identity. At once impressionist and thematic, Richards weaves together interviews and personal testimonies to form a tapestry not just of human resilience, but perhaps even more of the greater Spirit that inspires the love of country and the love that binds together fellow citizens. It is in this Spirit that stories of the past, as well as hopes for the future, are carried with such graciousness. Absent is the sense of vengefulness, less still a countering sense of ethnic privilege or preeminence. Back to Bucha reveals a humble people, wanting to preserve and, by current necessity, restore a place in which to live, love and worship, according to the gifts of a deeply rich cultural and religious heritage. It is a study in how genuine faith turns the love of nation into simply and gracefully the love of home.”
Not sure about “impressionistic and thematic” but it was clear how much Fr. Dave enjoyed and learned from the film about those he saw in it.
My goal? To give American Christians a chance to see just how much we have in common with our new friends, allies, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. People just like us. It’s a witnessing of sorts by me and those in the film of how the Spirit plays such a crucial role in the conflict and in Ukrainian resilience. Something rarely talked about in the media.
In the end, American audiences don’t see victims in Back to Bucha. Just those trying to raise their children in their own homes in their own country – and thanking God to be alive. They see people like us fighting for their freedom – and thanking God, America, and all who are in this fight with them.