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Ukrainian director calls for trials of Soviet-era ‘war crimes’

The Russian state should be tried for historical crimes committed by the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa has said before the premiere of his new documentary, The Kiev Trial, at Venice.

Speaking at a press conference, Loznitza – who was expelled from the Ukrainian film academy for expressing his support for Russian film-makers – said there needed to be contrition for the wrongs of the past.

“History repeats itself when we don’t learn from history, when we didn’t study it and don’t want to know what happened with us,” he said.

“It’s very difficult and people have to spend a lot of energy for that … When this Russian invasion of Ukraine happens, just immediately we all realised ourselves it’s like 80 years ago, and understand that we just started to repeat the same things. It means that we did not learn after war.”

The Kyiv trial, also known as the “Kyiv Nuremberg”, took place in January 1946 in the Soviet Union, and was one of the first post-second world war trials convicting German Nazis and their collaborators. Fifteen defendants faced justice “on the atrocities committed by fascist invaders on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR”.

Using previously unseen archive footage, the documentary – which is playing out of competition at Venice – reconstructs key moments of the proceedings, including statements of the defendants and testimonies of the witnesses, with survivors of Auschwitz and Babyn Yar among them.

A still from Sergei Loznitsa’s new documentary, The Kiev Trial
A still from Sergei Loznitsa’s new documentary, The Kiev Trial. Photograph: Atoms Void

Loznitza linked the invasion of Ukraine to the lack of repentance for historical Soviet crimes and said he hoped one day to make a film about trials against representatives of the Soviet Union.

“At the end of this war, there must be a trial against all war crimes which Russian army and Russian politicians did in Ukraine,” he said. “But also trial against the state of the Soviet Union about crimes they did starting from 1917 and ending with collapse of Soviet Union. It’s because this kind of trial did not happen like Nuremberg trial that we have this country in such circumstances how it is now. We are all surprised, but it’s nothing surprise when people thinking in such a way. Without such a trial … nothing happens and this struggle will appear again and again.”

He added: “We would be happy to make a film about that. This is what I want to do.”

Loznitsa resigned from the European Film Academy in February in response to its statement expressing “solidarity with Ukraine” – published after the Russian invasion of the country. In an open letter, the director condemned the academy for failing “to call a war a war, to condemn barbarity and voice your protest”.

Days later, the European Film Academy announced that it would exclude Russian films from its European Film awards. But Loznitsa spoke against this decision, saying “many friends and colleagues, Russian film-makers, have taken a stand against this insane war … They are victims as we are of this aggression.” He urged to “not judge people based on their passports” but “on their acts”.

It was then announced that Loznitsa had been expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy for opposing the boycott of Russian films.

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