Editor's note: This film is no longer available online.

Ten-year-old Oleg lives in the small village of Hnutove, where the sounds of missiles echo across snow-covered fields and residents' homes.

For more than four years, eastern Ukraine has been the centre of the armed conflict between pro-Russian separatist forces and the Ukrainian government. Since 2014, the conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, among them at least 2,500 civilians.

Today, the fighting is concentrated along a 400km line of contact, where nighttime shelling is the leading cause of civilian casualties.

Caught in the middle of this conflict are the people living in and around the warzone, unable to leave and struggling to lead a normal life with sounds of anti-aircraft fire and missile strikes echoing - sometimes in the distance, other times frighteningly close.

Oleg's village is only about a mile (1.6km) from the front line. While others have already left this dangerous area, Oleg remains with his grandmother, Alexandra, who has taken care of him since his mother's death. They have nowhere else to go.

While waiting for the war to end Oleg enjoys hanging out with his younger cousin and an older neighbour boy - a momentary escape from the seriousness surrounding them. Together, they go on adventures, playing games and exploring the land around them, but sometimes, the proximity of the shelling forces them home.

As the war continues, life becomes increasingly difficult for Oleg and Alexandra, with the end of conflict nowhere in sight. In the day-to-day fragility of their lives, they turn to each other for stability and grounding.

The Distant Barking of Dogs follows a year in the life of Oleg, examining how a child's struggle to discover what the world is about grows interlaced with all the dangers and challenges of war.

Witness - The Distant Barking of Dogs - DO NOT USE
Oleg and his grandmother, Alexandra, live together in the eastern Ukranian village of Hnutove [Simon Lereng Wilmont/Al Jazeera]


By Simon Lereng Wilmont

The first time I met Oleg during a research trip, I asked him if he could describe how it felt to be scared. He looked at me and, without hesitation, he said, 'If you can imagine a hand reaching in and grabbing your heart. When the first explosions sound, after the canons have fired, the hand starts squeezing. Then it gets all cold, too.' It was then that I knew I had found my main character.

Shortly after, I met his grandmother, Alexandra, an amazing, loving and strong woman. It was obvious how close and special the bond between the two of them was. Their house still showed signs of shelling and desperately needed repairs, but it was filled with warmth and laughter.

Most of the villagers had been forcibly displaced, often including close friends and relatives, leaving behind a vacuum of activity where time did not exist. But there was always a warm meal ready and a good story waiting to be shared in their house.

Life was calm and beautiful, as it should be. For a second, you almost forgot about the war. Staying there long enough, though, I soon realised that this bubble of safety was just an illusion. A brittle illusion that could shatter violently and often unexpectedly, to reveal the very real and dangerous world that Oleg and Alexandra really live in.

The film is about how people deal with the cracks in that illusion and about the human drive we have to survive no matter what. How, even amid the most impossible circumstances, we build illusionary worlds for ourselves in which we can find comfort and warmth, because we can't exist for long in chaos. Even if the illusion is demolished over and over again, we still keep building it back up again. That kind of tenacity is incredibly beautiful to me.

I am also reminded of the importance of the people who surround us by the mutual dependency that Oleg and his grandmother have developed. They share a love for each other. Without one, the other would collapse.

However, they live in two different worlds. His world is immediate: he reacts to what happens and quickly suppresses the bad things. She, on the other hand, knows that the things yet to come can have terrible consequences for them.

In the film, Alexandra keeps the big, bad world away from Oleg as long as she can. That's what enables him to be a child long enough to give her the joy and hope that she needs to survive and keep up the illusion.

Source: Al Jazeera