Words: Alastair James; pictures: Instagram/@zagorodniioleg and Firebird
Firebird's Oleg Zagorodnii has compared modern-day Russia to the Soviet Union and vowed that Ukrainians will keep fighting for their freedom.
The Ukrainian actor, 34, who has been forced to stay in the capital Kyiv during the war, gave an emotional speech over video at the UK premiere of the gay-Soviet era set romance drama.
"Putin's Russia is the same as the Soviet Union because until today people in Putin's Russia don't have the opportunity to be themselves and in my country today, Ukraine, we fight for our freedom for our opportunity to be Ukrainian in the future to stay ourselves," the actor said.
"Ukrainians are now facing a new cycle of violence"
He also thanked people for supporting Ukraine and added: "I hope we will win and we will win soon."
Commenting on Oleg's speech, Firebird director Peeter Rebane told Attitude the team was "shocked and saddened" when Russia launched its assault on Ukraine.
"It brought the reality of this war very close to our hearts, and led us to partner worldwide with AllOut, to support Ukrainian LGBTIQ+ war refugees through our film release."
Mentioning the promise he and Firebird lead actor, co-writer, and producer Tom Prior made to Sergey Fetisov (who inspired the film's story) that the film would be about love, not politics Peetrer says: "Little could we imagine back then that history will repeat itself, and just like Russia occupied (or n their words 'liberated') Estonia in the past, Ukrainians are now facing a new cycle of violence."
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"As a filmmaker, I feel it is especially important to tell this story now to the widest audiences worldwide, to bring more attention to the human rights abuses that have been going on in Russia since the Soviet times, and the persecution of the LGBTIQ+ community both in Russia and the region at large," he continues.
He adds, "I truly hope that Firebird will create more compassion and understanding."
Firebird has been targeted on multiple occasions by Russia and nationalist groups. The film was silenced at the Moscow International Film Festival 2021 after the first screening with subsequent press headlines including 'A Brit, an Estonian and a Ukrainian shame the Moscow International Film Festival'.
The creative team received death threats as well, which Prior commented on when speaking to Attitude in February.
"We’ve been attacked several times via our social media channels with all kinds of intricate ways of how our creative team are going to die and things like that. It’s honestly horrendous, but it’s interesting to have pointed out that it’s a true story," the actor said.
A Q&A for the film screened during the festival Side by Side was also disrupted.
Firebird is now available in UK cinemas.
The Attitude May/June issue featuring the cast of Heartstopper is out now.