‘Mother of Chernobyl’ via The Current

Student short film is selected for the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival

By Sonia Fernandez

The year is 1987, and in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster a young Ukrainian mother named Masha grapples with an unfathomable decision: stay or go.

For those of us who have never lived in the Soviet Union, the woman’s choice is difficult to comprehend. But for Masha — and for many whose lives and identities were bound to the few pieces of property they could pass on to their children — it is the only option: Remain in the radiation zone.

Masha is the main protagonist of the student short film “Mother of Chernobyl,” and her troubles are just the beginning.


Add to that the future Masha fears for her child, born deformed due to radiation, and there isn’t much incentive to leave the only home they have ever known.

The film, which began as a student production, is now an official selection at the Santa Barbara Film Festival (SBIFF). It will screen Sunday, Jan. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre.

Such a granular perspective on the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is fairly rare; most stories prefer instead to hit the high notes: the timeline of the reactor failures, the evacuations of the masses, the devastation to the area, the tragic health effects, the impact on politics and international relations, and the ensuing emptiness and desolation of places like Pripyat, the city where the meltdowns occurred. But for the film’s director, Alexander Shuryepov, the decisions of a young woman in the face of such a devastating event loom just as large — they reflect the type of choices his own family faced.

“My mother and grandmother were both in Kyiv during the time of the disaster; I grew up hearing them recount their side of the story,” said Shuryepov, who wrote and directed the film in 2019 as a freshman in UC Santa Barbara’s film and media studies department. The project started out like any regular assignment at the UCSB Carsey-Wolf Center’s GreenScreen program, with the single requirement that it somehow had to involve the environment.

Over the course of production the film evolved into an intimate, unique look at Ukranian culture and society, gleaned, according to Shuryepov, from moments he had witnessed during a visit to the country.

Read more at ‘Mother of Chernobyl’

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