Over the last year, each of us has heard a million times that the Russian war against Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Sometimes with a further clarification “full-scale”. But when I stand in the center of Kyiv near the wall of St. Michael’s Cathedral with thousands of portraits of people who died defending their country since 2014, I understand that thousands of mothers, wives, sisters and brothers, and sometimes young children of dead soldiers are hurt by the rejection of the fact that Russia started the war a long time ago. And if the whole world had seen this war as it sees the war now, perhaps on Russia would have been unable to start that very “full-scale” one on 24 February.

But the authors of documentaries saw the war started by Russia. They struck the bell, which, unfortunately, was not heard properly. We tried to show these films in Russia at Artdocfest. Sometimes it was successful, like the screening of my first Latvian film Rodnye (Close relations), or the film by Simon Lereng Wilmont The Distant Barking of Dogs, which won the prize at the Artdocfest. Sometimes screenings were disrupted by pro-Kremlin militants, flooding the halls with chemicals. And for trying to show the film War for Peace by Yevhen Titarenko in Russia, the prosecutor’s office of the Russian Federation opened the first case against me, but that’s how we met Yevhen and now we have shot the film Eastern Front together, which will be the official closing film of IDFF Artdocfest/Riga.

Today, here in independent Latvia, which stands at the forefront of supporting the fighting Ukraine, we present a programme of the best documentaries from around the world about the War that was before the War.

Vitaly Mansky