Dana Kavelina

Letter to a Turtledove (2020)

Russia’s war with Ukraine did not begin on 24 February 2022, but at least eight years earlier, when the coal-rich Donbas region became a battlefield for the Ukrainian army and Russian-sponsored separatists. Dana Kavelina’s film-poem tells of this war and the hallucinatory horrors it has unleashed. It combines archival footage, collage animation, and live-action segments with images of the 2014 war in Donbas taken from the anonymous five-hour documentary To Watch the War (2018). Today’s war appears as a reversal of Soviet history in the region, once a showcase of shock work and socialist industrialization. This implosion of history has left a jumble of jarring images and deadly rituals where documents and dreamscapes merge. Kavelina combines these to the unique rhythm of her poetic message—a radio broadcast addressed to women in the occupied territories. It is a threatening message promising destruction and redemption in nearly religious tones—a promise of the rapist to his victim. Part of a larger cycle of films on genocide, war, and their implications for women, Kavelina’s film offers very different optics from the objectifying ones we so often use to look at victimhood. It explores how violence is absorbed and encapsulated by its guilty survivors. Its treatment of such a sensitive topic prefigures today’s tragedy—the massive use of rape as a weapon of war by Russian soldiers.

Dana Kavelina (1995, Melitopol, Ukraine) is an artist and filmmaker. She works with text, painting, graphics, video, and installation and produces animated films that explore personal and historical trauma, vulnerability, and perceptions of war outside of mainstream narratives. Her works have been exhibited at the Kmytiv Museum, the Closer Art Center, Kyiv, and the Sakharov Center, Moscow. She received awards at the Odesa International Film Festival and the KROK International Animated Film Festival.

HD video, 21 min.

Director and editor: Dana Kavelina
Actress and assistant: Kateryna Turenko
Text edited by Nikita Pidgora
Second voice: Nikita Pidgora