When a Russian loves a Ukrainian

A film and a real-life story highlight the very different reactions of the Kremlin to a Russian-Ukrainian love affair.

Film Crimea
Subtitle of a poster of Crimea reads 'Love is stronger than hate' [Mariya Petkova/Al Jazeera]

Two dramatic love stories, both featuring a Ukrainian and a Russian, have been making headlines in Moscow in recent weeks, albeit for different reasons. One of them enjoys the full sanction of the Russian authorities. About the other, they would rather not comment.

Permissible love

Alyona is a Ukrainian journalist from Kiev and a liberal; Sasha is a former marine from Sevastopol and a Russian patriot. They meet at the ruins of a medieval city in Crimea in the summer of 2013 and fall in love. As the anti-government protests in Kiev begin, Alyona joins them enthusiastically; Sasha does not approve.

The two lovers argue over the Maidan; he thinks the protesters are “banderovtsi”, that is, supporters of Stepan Bandera, leader of a radical nationalist Ukrainian movement during World War II; she thinks they are heroes.

When the Russian army, or the so-called polite people, rolls into Crimea, he is happy because he thinks they will prevent an impending war.

She is angry about it, and yet is unable to resist him and they spend a passionate night together. It then turns out that her Maidan friends are indeed “banderovtsi” who have been conspiring to start a war in Crimea.

They kidnap Sasha, but she alerts the “polite people”, who foil the plot heroically and save Crimea from a violent war. In the end, he goes to fight “against her own people”, most probably in the Donbas, but she still loves him.

This is, in short, the plot of the recently released Russian film Crimea. It is a Ukrainian love story with an official stamp of approval from the Russian defence ministry.

The film was created at the initiative of Sergei Shoigu, Russian defence minister, and sponsored by the ministry which provided the military equipment and special forces for all its action-filled scenes.

The director of the film, Alexei Pimanov, says he was in Crimea in March 2014 and witnessed the events presented in his film. “I consider Crimea not a governmental, but a national film,” he told Russian media outlet MK.


Despite its patriotic flavour, the film was not much of a success.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a Hollywood spy action film released just before Crimea, made double the profit and had double the viewership in Russia.

Crimea’s premiere was held in the Kremlin in late September amid a scandal: tens of thousands of accounts at Kinopoisk, one of Russia’s main film websites, were found to have been hacked and used to boost its “anticipation” rating.

After Kinopoisk discovered the hack and removed the fake votes, the film’s rating fell from 60 to 21 percent.

Currently, Crimea has an overall film score of 2.5/10; by comparison, Kingsman got 7.2/10.

Forbidden love

Tatyana is a 17-year-old Russian high-school student from Sochi and a big fan of 20th century Ukrainian history; Pavel is a 19-year-old philosophy student in Kiev and a Ukrainian patriot.

Their love story starts in the Russian social network VKontakte in January 2017, where they discover they have a lot in common.

They both are enthralled by the eventful life of Stepan Bandera and both like to read about Ukrainian nationalism. They soon fall in love and they start making plans to be together in Ukraine, to train as volunteers in a military camp and then go to Donbas.

But when Tatyana applies for a passport, she gets a visit from the FSB. She is told that if she cooperates with them, meets Pavel and just asks him a couple of questions, she would be issued the passport.

Tatyana tells her beloved everything and he agrees to the meeting, to be held in Belarus, which Tatyana visit without a passport.

Under the supervision of Tatyana’s mother, they meet in the Belarusian city of Gomel. The meeting is quick, they have enough time only to embrace each other and agree on future plans. It is the last time they see each other.

Shortly after they part, Pavel is kidnapped and then transferred to Russia, where he now faces charges of “terrorism”.


This love story is not a plot of a film. It is what Ukrainian media outlet Hromadskoe and Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta were able to uncover investigating the mysterious disappearance of a Ukrainian citizen in Belarus and his reappearance in detention in the Russian city of Krasnodar.

The Belarusian authorities denied ever detaining Pavel but acknowledged that the Russians had put him on a “wanted” list.

On September 13, almost three weeks after his disappearance, the Russian authorities finally acknowledged that Pavel was under arrest in Russia.  

The Russian government is yet to comment on Pavel and Tatyana’s story. The Ukrainian government has handed an official protest note to Moscow and demanded that Pavel be released immediately, but to no avail.

On October 18, the Krasnodar court extended his arrest until January 2018. Pavel has been charged with planning a “terrorist attack”; according to Russian media. The prosecution accuses him of encouraging Tatyana to plant a bomb in her school.

Pavel is suffering from a life-threatening condition for which he was supposed to undergo surgery.

According to his lawyer, the Russian authorities have refused to give him the medicine he needs and, as a result, his condition is worsening.

Tatyana is also part of the court case: she told Novaya Gazeta that she has not received the passport she was promised. 

Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova