ROZDOLIVKA, Ukraine — Before the war arrived at his doorstep, Anton Filatov, a Ukrainian film critic, said probably the most dangerous thing he ever carried was a fork.
“I had never touched a weapon,” he said. “I used to be against war. I ran so far as I could from it.”
But as with so many other Ukrainians, the fighting found him, and his life has change into a real-life war movie. He’s serving on the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Russian invaders, in among the most contested, blood-soaked territory, caught in a theater he never imagined for himself.
In late August, he was stationed in an abandoned house within the village of Rozdolivka, within the war-ravaged Donbas region. This was once a spot where the gardens had grape vines crawling up trellises and the homes had roofs. Then the shelling began.
During one barrage, Mr. Filatov, 34, ducked right into a bomb shelter, still wearing his owlish glasses. He is incredibly nearsighted, minus 7, considered one of the various reasons his wife was shocked he was drafted.
Even with the horrors he has to squint to see, and the every day grind of being soldier, he hasn’t given up on his writing. The alternative. Ukraine’s war has change into his recent material, as he delves into the fear, sorrow, rage and anxiety he’s experiencing and tries to search out meaning within the smallest things around him, just like the mice that scurry over him while he sleeps.
In a recent text message, he wrote:
Once, during considered one of the heavy attacks, I sat in a dugout and watched the earth tremble. Chopped pine roots stuck out from the wall of our shelter. The sap of the tree flowed out of them. It shined like mercury and resembled tears. A number of months later, I don’t remember what number of explosions there have been that evening or what weapons had been fired. But I clearly remember one image: how the earth wept with heavy, cold tears.
War has at all times provoked remarkable writing, from the Iliad onward. Norman Mailer published “The Naked and the Dead” after serving within the Pacific in World War II as a young man just out of Harvard. Bao Ninh wrote perhaps the saddest, most agonizing account of the Vietnam War, through which he narrowly survived as a North Vietnamese foot soldier, in “The Sorrow of War.”
Mr. Filatov’s blog posts on Facebook are a Twenty first-century version of this, they usually have gained him a growing audience.
“The war opens his gifts much more,” said Alexandr Gusev, a veteran Ukrainian film critic, who was an admirer of Mr. Filatov’s film writing before the fighting and has been following his wartime blogging since.
He writes in three languages — Ukrainian, Russian and English — and within the 2010s, when Ukraine’s film industry took off, so did Mr. Filatov’s profession. He saw 1000’s of flicks, wrote a whole bunch of reviews and traveled the world to take a seat on film festival juries.
Cinema, he said, “helps him understand people,” and film criticism lets him explore his love for the flicks, his interest in stories — and his talent for evocative writing.
“From the beginning, Anton was really noticeable,” Mr. Gusev said. “He has this ability to make use of his own personal emotional condition, which brings him near his audience. He became considered one of the highest 5 – 6 film critics in our country.”
With the 2020 Covid pandemic, cinemas within the country shut down and so did many Ukrainian publications. His wife, Elena Filatova, can also be a journalist, and to assist support his family, he became a content editor for Nestlé, while still writing the occasional review.
Around 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, his young son Platon toddled as much as a window of their apartment within the Kyiv suburbs and looked down at the road. Cars were fleeing, bomb blasts were shaking town, and the little boy began crying. The Russians had invaded.
As required, Anton reported for military duty, pondering he’d never be chosen, but a couple of weeks later, he boarded a train crowded with soldiers for Donbas, where the fighting has been the fiercest.
“It’s such a paradox that a peaceful, peaceful man like him is forced right into a situation like that,” said Britt Sorensen, a Norwegian film critic who served on a movie festival jury with Mr. Filatov. “The incontrovertible fact that he has to fight physically for his country as a substitute of using his mental capability for the most effective of his country is outrageous.”
As an easy soldier, Mr. Filatov’s first task on the front was digging a pit to sleep in. The rocklike soil was so hard he had to make use of an ax. It took an hour simply to hack away a couple of inches. He didn’t like living in that hole: “It’s not so nice in nighttime when some spiders attempt to are available in into your nose,” he said.
But he didn’t stay long.
At that stage of the fighting, he and his unit were being pushed back repeatedly, firsthand witnesses to the Ukrainian Army’s struggles in Donbas this spring and summer.
A voracious reader, Mr. Filatov often writes concerning the overlap between the books he carries and the war itself.
In a single blog post, he compared the underworld of a Jo Nesbo thriller, “Phantom,” to the suspicion and treachery in Donbas, where many residents support the Russian military and have worked secretly to assist them of their fight.
The settlements listed below are stuffed with traitors. They walk the streets like phantoms. Restless. Invisible. Dangerous.
One night in Donbas, he saw something very unusual within the starlit sky: glowing white embers, burning shiny, floating gently down, almost like flowers. “It was very beautiful,” he said. “But horrible.”
It was white phosphorous, an especially dreaded munition that burns straight through anything. He began taking anti-anxiety drugs to have the opportunity to operate.
While Ukrainian forces have been doing well within the south — having just liberated Kherson, a strategically essential city — Mr. Filatov predicted the fighting in Donbas “will proceed for a really very long time.”
He mentioned an exchange in a Donbas town, where a drunk man told him he had taken an oath of allegiance to the united statesS.R., so how could he switch that allegiance to Ukraine?
“I said, ‘how are you going to be obligated by a rustic that doesn’t exist?’” Mr. Filatov recalled. “But a conversation with a drunk man is something very special. I don’t think he heard me.”
During a missile attack in a single Donbas town, his battalion’s bookkeeper was gravely wounded, and Mr. Filatov was asked to step in.
“What I actually wanted was to work with drones and maps,” he said. “But no one asked me.”
In his recent job, he trots from house to deal with, where Ukrainian troops are sometimes based, and sometimes even trench to trench, carrying his AK-47 in a single hand and a battered, army-issued laptop in the opposite. He conducts interviews with soldiers, asking them about every thing from emergency contacts to their shoe size, constructing a database of essential information for the complete battalion.
His life before the war now seems up to now away. “Quite every thing that I loved, that I wanted, that I used to be desirous about, has modified,” he said.
He used to gravitate toward art-house movies, but now says that considered one of his Top 10 favorites is Christopher Nolan’s Hollywood blockbuster, “Dunkirk,” about which he recently wrote:
The leitmotif of this film is the hypnotizing sound of a ticking stopwatch. Here, on the front line, shelling is so intense that after every explosion, hearing disappears for tens of seconds. When the shelling stops, the hearing regularly begins to return. In considered one of these cases, the very first thing I heard was the ticking of a clock. Exactly like on this movie. And I assumed: How a lot of these seconds are allotted for the remainder of my life? How cool is it that I’m still alive?
With death surrounding him, he has turned from someone who never had any urge to take part in combat right into a man who now thinks quite a bit about killing.
“After I see how my friends are killed and maimed within the war, when my wife writes to me that she sits with our 2-year-old son within the basement for several hours, when my relatives tell me that they can’t work as a consequence of power outages, since the Russians bombed the facility plant, I feel great anger inside me,” he said. “At such moments, I need to run into an attack on the Russians, who’re standing a couple of kilometers from me and shoot all of them.”
He has not seen his wife or his son since May 12.
“It took me a month to recover from the shock,” Ms. Filatova, his wife, said. “Then the following month was just fear.”
“I put myself in a jar,” she added. “Now, I’m just waiting for it to finish.”
Winter remains to be a month away, but it surely’s already sweeping across Ukraine, the cold making every thing harder. Mr. Filatov sleeps in a room with a temperature barely higher than a refrigerator. Greater than half his unit, he said, was “injured, sick or dead.”
In a recent voice message, he spoke softly and slowly about his own mortality:
One morning I went to the post office to receive a shipment from my family of warm clothes. They got here in an enormous plastic bag. Then I used to be busy all day and took this plastic bag in every single place I went. Within the evening, unexpectedly, I used to be asked to assist our medics load a plastic bag with a casualty from our battalion. This coincidence just struck me emotionally.
A plastic bag gives you life within the morning and within the evening a really similar plastic bag takes life away. Here at war every thing is guided by coincidence or accident. Nobody knows how the missile will fly, how the shrapnel will go or where the bullet will land.
Are you going to hold the bag? Or are you going to be within the bag?