Though the war is far from over and Russia can find new ways to punish Ukraine, collapsing Russian forces have not only been pushed back; in abandoning their former headquarters in Izium, they also left behind large stores of equipment and ammunition that the Ukrainians can now use against them. Even if the Russians stabilize the line in the coming days, they will be in a far worse position than they were on September 1. Building on months of careful efforts to both prepare Ukrainian forces and waste Russian ones, Ukraine has achieved a strategic masterstroke that military scholars will study for decades to come.
I am leaving Kyiv this late afternoon on a train to Poland. I should arrive back in SA on Thursday. It has been a busy and productive time here and I saw many friends and took a lot in. Yes, there are air raid sirens, and of course, the country is at war, so it is not entirely safe. But I did not feel any danger in Kyiv and life in the nation’s magical capital goes on. What I did experience was positivity. There is optimism, passion and unity. Ukraine will win this war. They know what they are fighting for. And they have a lotta soul.
When the war started we were here. And the world news was hinting that Kyiv would fall in 3 days. This did not happen. And I will tell you what else did not happen. Mad Max. There is no anarchy here. No looting, no riots, no bandits running around. Quite the opposite. As my friend Shadi said to me, “You have do admire this nation. They are kind and they are helping each other. And that is not about government. That is about society.” Yes, Ukraine struggles with bad stereotyping, and yes, Ukraine suffers from corruption. But things were getting better and they were on a good path. I believe this path is still there.
This war may go on for a while still, but it is only making Ukrainians more determined to leave their old ways behind and embrace a new world. A world where freedom is fundamental, and where you can write your own story. Ukrainian entrepreneurship is alive and well – they do things their way and they need to polish many things. But they are risk takers for sure and they are innovative and creative. To spend time here is to understand. If you have never visited Kyiv, for example, you will never know about the magic here.
This has been quite a week. Back in SA, on Thursday evening, was the SABC launch of “57”, the documentary we made about violent crime in SA. The film turned out excellent and the event was successful. And also this week, we started full time on the next adventure, the Ukraine film project. We started this journey in 2018 and then things got put on hold because of the pandemic. The ball is rolling again and this is now my focus until we are complete. I estimate it will take us one year.
Earlier this week I was taken to the outskirts of Kyiv by Anton and Max to see some of the devastation that took place way back when the war began. It has all been cleaned up so you don’t see rubble and burned out cars, etc. We did see some destroyed tanks on the side of the road, but if I had not known there was a war on the go, I would have thought this was all a result of a big fire. Also, there were people going on about their daily lives and things felt calm and busy.
Kyiv, like the rest of Ukraine, is a kind place. People care about each other and everyone is doing what they can to make sure Ukraine wins this war and moves forward in the world, as a contributing member. They make a lot of important things in Ukraine, like food. And then there is the tech scene, which is breaking ground all the time. I believe Ukraine is in for some very hard times. After the war there are going to be a lot of people with no homes to go to, and unemployment is going to be a big concern. But they will help each other and before you know it, they will be back on the path, and in a few years from now Ukraine will boom. There is much to be excited about. Yes, again, the war is still going on, and there is a lot of pain, and destruction. But the war will end, and good will triumph over evil, and Ukraine will find its place in the world.
Eating out in Kyiv is always a treat. The food is simply delicious and often, like the design and architecture, so fresh and inspired. I have had many guests here from other countries over the years and they are always amazed at the restaurants in Kyiv. And also, in Lviv. It is simply WOW.
One of my favourite spots in Kyiv is called Spicy No Spicy. The décor is so cool and the menu is right up my alley. I love Thai food and this is some of the best I have ever eaten. Of course, with the war situation business is not like it used to be and this makes me sad. They try so hard and deserve to be full all the time. My guess is that they are running at about 30% from their highs. Not a disaster, and getting better with each passing week, but not good. Kyiv needs more people to make these businesses sustainable.
Eating out here is often a quirky and entertaining experience. I felt like desert and I noticed Snikers ice cream on the menu. This had to be a typo. I asked the waitress about the Snikers. She told me the Snickers ice cream is really good. And I said “But it says Snikers.” She realized the typo and giggled a bit. I then asked if it was the same as the Snickers ice cream you can get at the Silpo supermarket or was it made here in the restaurant. I was just joshing around as I knew it had to be made in the restaurant. She looks at me and goes “No, at Silpo you can get Snickers ice cream. Here we have Snikers. It is our own secret ice cream.” We all laughed, and it was seriously yummy. I love Snikers. Sharp waitress – this is something I tell people all the time. Ukrainians are very quick off the mark and their sense of humour is up there with the best of the best.
This is the Coconut Dessert (below). It is off the charts good. Never had anything like it before, anywhere. And it looks so pretty. I leave this Sunday. Heading back to SA. I will miss magical Kyiv. I am confident we will be back here at the end of March. Spicy No Spicy will be one of the first places we eat at when we get back. Bunster is going to love it too.
We have such an expression in American English: ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog’. In my opinion Ukraine has the will to fight, they have a reason to fight, they have been bullied by Russia for a long, long time, even back before the starvation in the 30s.
Ever since I was a teenager I believed that I had a magical destiny. I have always lived life from the heart and I have never chased money. Not that pursing cash is a bad thing, it is just not me. I have had a lot of luck in life and I thank God for that. I have also had a lot of pain and this current nightmare war in particular is very hard to come to terms with. And it is easy to start having doubts and to lose your way when there is so much uncertainty.
Over 20 years ago, on our first indie film project called “Purpose” I was out of my depth and pretty naive. I probably still am. I got into a difficult situation in America and was traumatized and wobbly. I lost about 16 kilos over that period and was quite afraid of the world for a time. But somehow I found my confidence again, and my strength, and about a year later I was fired up again.
I remember a very wise and kind Rabbi in Los Angeles who could feel the pain I was in, and he could see my innocence that had been affected. He gave me a lot of strength when he said to me, “God challenges those with great destinies.” Yes, we learn nothing when things are easy. I have thought about these words often – every time there is struggle. Our documentary film project “57” which was delivered this week was a very hard journey. The film turned out excellent, and we are all happy about that, but it was a seriously intense effort and we are all exhausted. I never understand why some experiences have to be so painful but I believe it is preparing us for something important, something purposeful.
I have always been driven by a sense of purpose. I sometimes think it is a blessing as well as a curse. It is much easier, for example, to simply focus on making money. Making a difference can come later, when you have money. This is what a lot of cynics will tell you. Perhaps they are right. Purpose, to me, is like magic. When you feel a calling drive you it can be a magical experience.
I love the word magic but this year I almost stopped believing in, well, anything. This war turned our lives upside down and for a time there I was even wondering if there really is a God.
I have a big collection of pranks and magic tricks in the Nest in Kyiv. When we left on the second day of the war we were in such a state of shock that I didn’t think to grab some of my favourite stuff. That was 6 months ago and now I am back in Kyiv for a couple of weeks. And there I was, just the other day, wondering when I will be able to see the magic collection again. Some days I think it is all so unnecessary, all this stuff. A friend of mine Greg offered me some solace recently when he said to me “The magic is inside you.” Thank you Greg. I sometimes forget this, and I am often very hard on myself. I know I have made many mistakes again in these past 6 months. The war trauma is always my excuse but I know that I need to work on myself. There is much I need to change.
A wise mentor friend once said that tough times doesn’t build character, it reveals character. In this department I feel secure. I may by misfiring a bit and talking too much, from all the nervous energy, but I have always acted with integrity and compassion.
The one thing that I am happy with is my role as a dad. The Bunster is loved and nurtured. I don’t how we do it each day – he has no clue that we are struggling. I want to believe too that this little dude has a special destiny. One day all of this pain will make sense.
I spent a day and a half in Krakow this week. The city center was looking very pretty and it is was buzzing. There are no signs of a recession here, and please remind me what Covid is again. Yes, this city was full of life and there were people from all nationalities all over the place. And of course, a lot of Ukrainian folk. Poland has been very good to Ukraine from what I understand. It is hard to comprehend that just 6 hours drive away in beautiful Lviv, where I have arrived this morning, there is a country traumatized by this insane war. And yet in Krakow life goes on as normal.
Here are a few cool pics from a short walk I took on Thursday early evening in Krakow. And the funny thing is, I am pretty sure Kyiv will look busy and buzzing too. Yes, there will be less people, and few foreign tourists (I think), but life in Ukraine’s capital has not stopped. What has stalled is foreign investment, as the war has damaged the economy in ways that will only be felt long after this nightmare ends. I am confident that Ukraine will rebuild and that the West will pump a lot of “guilt” money into the country once the war is over. But there is going to be a lot of pain. While it may look “normal” there is a big economic challenge that this war has created. So many unemployed people, millions displaced, so many entrepreneurs having left. It is going to be a hard road to recovery. But Ukraine will recover and be stronger, and things will be good again. Even better. My heart tells me this every day and this is what I believe.
Two friends of mine sent me some photos from Kyiv this week. Lots of people out and about enjoying the sunny weather. These particular pics from Kyiv do have a different look as you will notice, but otherwise when I get to Kyiv next week I am confident that all will seem pretty normal. I will spend time with both these friends next week in magical Kyiv. They are good people. I am looking forward to seeing them both.
The bus adventure from Krakow to Lviv I could write about all day. The bus was mostly women, and some young children. Hardly anyone made a sound and very few people could speak English. I can speak some Russian but I was not sure that speaking in Russian would go down well. I am still trying to find my feet on this. The one thing that I won’t ever forget was the sight of the long long line of trucks queuing up in the truck lane at the border to enter Ukraine from Poland. I am talking about a few kilometers of trucks – it just did not seem to end. Huge trucks, Petrol carriers. You name it, there was a truck with it in that queue. I am sure some of it must be humanitarian aid. I never knew the world had this many trucks, and all in one place.
Ukraine is going to be ok – the support from Poland and the world is what Ukraine needs to win this war. The spirit of Ukrainians and their bravery has captured the world’s imagination. You may not see the war in the news as much as before but I believe the support from America and the West will not stop until Ukraine wins the war. And then even more goodwill will pour in. Ukraine matters. They make food, and software, and they create so much cool and important stuff in the world. Very few people knew anything about this. And the country is beautiful, with warm people who know how to laugh. I am about to head out for an afternoon walk in Lviv’s city center. I remember it will – such a pretty place with so much charm. And amazing eating.
Ukraine is fighting for the whole world. They are doing America’s dirty work and paying in blood. No one likes to talk about this and a lot will ague and say this is rubbish. Dictators are on the rise, and Ukraine is fighting for freedom and democracy. Ukraine has truth on its side – Ukrainians know what they are fighting for. Naive, brainwashed Russian soldiers are fighting for a pay check. Ukraine is not a perfect place and suffers from corruption and bad branding. But it was coming right. Ukraine was moving in the right direction. When the war ends, Ukraine will recover and carry on moving in the right direction.
I am online from a hotel in Krakow. Been up since around 4 am. Tonight late I take a bus to Lviv in Western Ukraine. This is a voyage like none I have taken before. And on the work front, another intense journey, lasting almost 3 years, is coming to an end. Our first documentary film project “57” is about to be delivered at the end of this month. It will go out on the SABC in September and if all goes well it may get onto Netflix around middle of next year. I have been involved with indie film making for over two decades and this was our first non-scripted project.
A documentary, we learned, is a whole different ballgame to scripted storytelling. It was a hectic learning curve and we made many mistakes. The knowledge we have gained will put us in good standing for a future documentary project. I am pleased to say that “57” tuned out excellent. It is powerful and compelling and as our one partner said, “It is profound.” Probably one our best film projects so far. Certainly an important story to tell – a mission with a strong sense of purpose.
I recently watched the film with my 14 year old nephew Aras who was staying with us down in Fancourt for a week. He did not look at his phone once and he had many questions when the film was over. I knew the film was working well. The number of people being murdered in SA each day is 57. This is what the statistic was when we started this project. Today, that number is 67.
If anyone out there is attempting to make a documentary here are some pointers: try keep your visual archive to a minimum. And if you are making use of library music, make sure the licenses covers streaming and broadcast. Releasing content on YouTube is not the same as broadcast television and streaming. The rights issues can be quite a thing. Especially when it comes to the use of still images (photographs). And if your images contain children then one has to be extra careful and sensitive. So much knowledge was gained with so many sleepless nights, to remind us never to make these same mistakes again. It was a difficult journey and took a lot of strength. The team has done well and this is a serious milestone.
Here is a summary of Craig Freimond’s rationale for “57”. Craig directed the film and he is also the narrator of the story.
57 is the number of South African’s that have been murdered every day in the last few years.
That is essentially what this moving and yet entertaining and inspiring film seeks to understand.
Craig Freimond : Most of my professional work is writing and directing feature films but a tragic event occurred that set me and some partners on a soul-searching path to make a different kind of film.
In February 2019 a small South African indie film directed by Kagiso Lediga called Matwetwe had just been released on circuit and was causing a mini-sensation. Audiences were flocking to see this mad, crazy tale of two friends with a wild scheme, lovingly laced with the lingo of the Pretoria Townships. It was a beautiful thing, a film made with lots of passion, instinct and love with a band of young community actors on the tiniest budget, was actually succeeding. It was so exciting for everybody involved, not least of all the two young stars Sibusiso Kwinana (S’bu) and Tebatso Mashisi. I knew the director and the producers and had followed the journey of the film from the beginning. I was at the premiere in and watched the wild and crazy response from the audience. I have been around for long enough to know this would be a hit. The audience howled with appreciation of the story, the language, the vibe and this wonderful depiction of the many shades of township life. This was going to be a locally made unexpected success story. The early weeks at the box office proved to be just that. The film was doing unbelievable business. It was making everyone involved very happy.
And then the unthinkable happened. The lead actor of film Sibusiso Kwinana was murdered in an attempted robbery for his cell phone. The incident happened outside a cinema in Pretoria where he had gone to watch the film with the local audience.
It took everyone some time to comprehend the tragedy that had occurred. S’bu was not only the lead of the film but a vibrant, enigmatic young man who inspired those around him. A man with a plan, a man who was going to do something special with his life. The sadness that this random act of violence created was unimaginable. The joy of everything that had happened with the film was stabbed, punctured, destroyed. It was impossible to watch the film without a sick feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. The incident left everyone involved at an utter loss. Desperation and despair set in. Even though I was only peripherally involved with the film and S’bu, I could simply not come to terms with what had happened. I was born in 1967 and have lived in Johannesburg my entire life so I have seen my fair share of South African heartache but there was something different about this. This was the death of promise, the death of potential and it led all of us to ask some very hard questions about the society that we live in. S’bu’s death was very high profile but there were 56 other people murdered that day in South Africa. Why are we killing our own people? Why are we killing our own potential?
We were so paralyzed by Sbu’s death that we decided to make a small film about it, so that at least we were doing something! The film would be both to honour S’bu but also to try and understand some of the questions that were plaguing us and that led to his and many other murders every single day. We were clear that we did not want to make a grim, depressing film but rather just an honest one, that could have love and laughter as well as the sadness and despair of the subject. Above all we wanted to make a film that was helpful to the people watching it. The issue of violent crime in South Africa is so overwhelming and endemic that there are very few helpful and reflections on it. Was there a way of looking at these issues that would be more helpful and illuminating?
In my spare time I work as a trauma counsellor for the Victims Support Unit of my local police station. It mostly deals with the effects and fallout of violent crime on ordinary South Africans. So this is a subject that is extremely close to my heart. Why do we have so much violent crime? What creates violence? Why do we have so much male rage? How do our socio-economic situation, with desperate levels of poverty unemployment and inequality play into the levels of crime? What can the police do? We were seeking reflections on these and many other questions. Probably the most important question of all was, is there anything we can do about it?
We started filming in February 2020, we have spoken to criminologists, psychologists, healers, academics, historians, comedians, policeman, crime fighters, actors, writers, directors, celebrities, talk show hosts and many, many ordinary South Africans. We grappled with these tough questions together. We faced the pandemic along the way, and even the devastation of recent events in KZN, all events that shine the spotlight onto this conversation in different ways. We have tried to make a film that is heartfelt, truthful, devastating, sad, but also helpful, insightful and entertaining to watch. If we are to succeed as a nation, to truly emerge from out brutal past and fulfill the potential that we know we have, then we have to find a way to answer and solve some of these difficult and painful questions.
The Bunster likes to laugh. This fills me with joy. Marta and I like to laugh too. We both have a good sense of humour. The Bunster is going to make people laugh. I can see this happening. He can sense, already, what is funny. He doesn’t speak in full sentences but he is starting to put words together. So things like setups and punchlines are a while away. But, when he sees something amusing he starts to laugh. He knows what is funny. I find this fascinating. No one taught him about jokes and comedy but he can see something he finds funny and he laughs with his whole little body and soul. It is magical.
This got me thinking about people and humour. Some people are way too serious and need to try laugh a bit more. Especially at themselves. I often laugh at myself. I make so many mistakes in life and learn many hard lessons. And if I didn’t laugh sometimes I would go crazy. Bunster is on the right track. He is literally laughing at himself. I showed him a video of himself in a shopping cart in the mall and he packed up laughing. Cool Bun.
On Friday it is was my birthday and the Bun man was the best birthday gift I have ever had. Thank you little man. You are innocent and curious and you make everyone smile and laugh. And that is magical.