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Not all war heroes wear uniforms: Lord Coaker reviews 'A Poem for Little People'

Donbas 2023: An evacuation team on the way to Bakhmut | Image by: Ivan Sautkin

Lord Coaker

Lord Coaker

4 min read

Following a volunteer evacuation team attempting to rescue those left behind in Eastern Ukraine, this moving film exposes both the impact of war on the most vulnerable and the enduring power of human kindness

We are quite rightly proud of the support that we have given to Ukraine to help it to fight against the illegal invasion of its territory by Russia. There have been many debates as to how we continue this support and what further military equipment is needed. We also reflect on the bravery of the Ukrainian armed forces, and the strength and determination of the people of that proud nation.

This brilliant documentary is a timely reminder of the heroic bravery and resolve of ordinary Ukrainians in the face of war, with all its terrible fear, destruction and horror. It looks at the distressing impact on the most vulnerable caught up on the front lines of this Russian-Ukrainian war and the volunteers who put their own lives on the line to try and rescue them.

The shocking reality of this situation is told through two story lines running alongside each other, which somehow work to make the harsh brutal truth of what these people face even more palpable to those of us watching from the comfort of the United Kingdom.

Ivan Sautkin
Director Ivan Sautkin I Image courtesy of Ivan Sautkin

A Poem for Little People will bring a tear to your eye. It is a wake up call to us all to remember the contribution to the Ukrainian war effort made by those who are not in uniform. Their fortitude is humbling to watch.

The film follows the volunteer evacuation team led by Anton in Eastern Ukraine. They rescue those people left behind, many not wanting to leave – many, touchingly, concerned for their pets. There is destruction all around and the constant sound of shelling and explosions in the background.

This brilliant documentary is a timely reminder of the heroic bravery and resolve of ordinary Ukrainians in the face of war

They rescue a 91-year-old grandmother and a very elderly blind grandfather, both of whom had missed the evacuation train. They are trying to rescue other elderly people collecting water from a bomb site who are reluctant to leave. A few won’t leave their homes, however much destruction there is; one woman’s priority is the cat – and another, the dog.

Volunteers staff a ruined hospital with hundreds queuing for care. The team are movingly gentle with an elderly fragile woman they evacuate on a makeshift stretcher, before taking her on 60km of bumpy roads to safety as she moans in real pain. The care and kindness shown to others, sometimes motivated by prayer, demonstrates the best of humanity amidst the worst – with the images forcing you to confront the horror yourself.

Taisia reads her poetry | Image by: Ivan Sautkin

Alongside this we are also literally given a window into this life through the eyes of Zinaida and Taisia who stayed in the now de-occupied Chernihiv region. These two ordinary women resisted the occupation in very different ways but are both inspirational and shining examples of individuals who stand up for what they believe is right in a manner of their choosing.

Taisia hides historic relics, organises patriotic singing and writes poetry, including one from a Russian soldier to his mother and father. In the poem this fictional soldier asks the ironic question of whether his parents would be proud of him as he maims and kills, revealing Putin’s claims that Russian soldiers would be welcomed as “freedom fighters” as a deception.

posterMeanwhile Zinaida sits at her window and collects intelligence about Russian military transporters she sees passing her house, delivering the information to the Ukrainian authorities by radio. Unimaginable heroism by a proud elderly resident of an occupied area.

This documentary is so powerful. Yes, it’s about helping the most vulnerable; yes, it’s about the human consequences of war. But, in the face of devastation and horror, the story is also one of human kindness and bravery as people resist the Russian occupation and stand up for Ukraine’s freedom. The way the film does this through the stories of ordinary people makes it even more compelling. Heroes don’t all wear uniforms. 

Lord Coaker is a Labour peer and shadow defence spokesperson

A Poem for Little People
Directed by: Ivan Sautkin
Broadcaster: UK premier tbc

For more information about the film visit Babylon 13

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