Italian cinema eyes Ukraine

When you think of Italy you probably envisage the Forum and the Vatican. Talking of the roaring river of immigrants pouring into the country on a daily basis, the Italian media project the images from Lampedusa. What also comes to mind is grouplets of fake Armani-ware hawkers off Piazza San Marco in Venice. Half of the latter under the water, no doubt.

“Badante” (caretaker) is the word that many Ukrainian women working in Italy use to explain what they do in Belpaese. But Chi non rischia non beve champagne (2002) is a 90-min film that scrutinizes the lives of Ukrainian women in a different job pool. The movie tells the stories of young women who leave or dream of leaving Ukraine in search of a better future in the West. Some of them look for a husband, some are ready to try absolutely anything. — As a Slav proverb says, “Who takes no risks, drinks no champagne.” But the dream of the West turns into a nightmare for some Eastern European female dreamers.

Babel TV is the kind of TV channel that would show such stories unfold in Italy. Marianna Soronevych runs the Ukrainian section of the  News Corp-owned channel aimed at the nuovi italiani. Here is an interview with Marianna Soronevych in Ukrainian.

The Capitoline Hill in Rome. Y. Tymoshenko banner between the images of Emanuela Orlandi (left) and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (Photo courtesy of

Another Ukrainian woman recently attracted renewed attention with the Italians. Yulia Tymoshenko. The Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno and his office made a decision to protest against the imprisonment of the former Prime Minister of Ukraine by attaching a banner with her image on the Capitoline Hill. Other public figures like Giovanni FalconePaolo BorsellinoAung San Suu Kyi and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani were and are celebrated in such a way by the Roman city authorities.

Berlusconi banner in Kharkiv (Photo courtesy of Vikna)

What did Ukrainian officials do in response to the Tymoshenko banner? In Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second largest city), an even bigger banner suggest that before campaigning for  Tymoshenko, the City of Rome should handle Silvio Berlusconi.

It is not the first war of signs involving Ukrainian interests on the Italian soil, or rather waters. In 2006, two filmmakers, Leonardo Di Costanzo and Bruno Oliviero, released a documentary about the plight of an Ukrainian ship Odessa in the port of Naples. The one-hour documentary is called Odessa, la Nave dell’Oblio/The Seven Sailors of the Odessa.

The film heroine — once the proud flagship of the Soviet cruise fleet — Odessa had been docked and motionless  in the port of Naples to eventually become the city’s landmark of sorts. The 136-meter ship was built during 1970-74 in Newcastle, UK.

When the Soviet Union sank in 1991, 200 ships were taken over by the Black Sea Shipping Company (BLASCO) operating out of the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa/Одеса. BLASCO possessed over 300 vessels, 30 of which were cruise vessels. By the spring of 1995, BLASCO had come to owe USD 300 million to its creditors. As a result, 24 of the company’s ships were seized in ports around the world.

At the demand of a German creditor, Odessa was arrested on a cruise at Capri. There were 360 passengers on board at the time. They disembarked in Naples, and the ship was forbidden to set sail.

Began the war of attrition between the international creditors and the crew led by Captain Vladimir Lobanov. Most of the crew had left. But the nine crew members who stayed had a claim against the vessel and decided to tough it out in the hopes of returning home with some sort of financial compensation. Sadly, during this sojourn in the port of Naples, two members of the remaining crew passed away. The plight of the crew attracted the sympathy and instilled a sense of solidarity of the local port workers, who took care of  the Ukrainians’ food supply.

Odessa was finally auctioned off in April of 2002 for 1,250,000 euro. Almost half of this sum was designated for eight surviving crew members. According to an online account by one Jeff Matthews, it is hard to establish the ship’s fate.

After a number of Italian companies turned down the proposal for Odessa, la Nave dell’Oblio, the Italian filmmakers finally got backing for the film from a French company Point Du Jour and producer Luc Martin-Gousset in particular.

If they were to make this kind of a film today, they could probably benefit from a host of o-production events specifically aiming projects that have to do with eastern Europe. One of such initiatives is comes from Trieste (a city and seaport in northeastern Italy) under the name When East meets West.

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