Bitter Harvest

The film Bitter Harvest provides an historical account of the Ukraine from 1917 to 1933. Known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” the Ukraine in January 1917 was a part of the Russian Kingdom. By October, Lenin had taken over Russia and soon began to integrate the Ukraine into a new economic order where small-scale agricultural producers were considered capitalists and therefore were “enemies of the state,” opposed to collectivization of agriculture. When Stalin came to power, resistance in Ukraine was high on the agenda, especially during a food shortage in Russia due to bad weather in 1932/33, and the result was brutal treatment in Ukraine despite the fact that bad weather also affected Ukraine. The term “holodomor” has been applied to the end result—millions dying due to mass starvation and military assaults as the food left the Ukraine for Russia.

Bitter Harvest begins with a voiceover at the beginning and end by Yuti (Max Irons), a fictional survivor who is identified as one of the few to escape to Poland despite the militarization of the border. The story revolves around Yuri, who has been deeply in love with Natalka (Samantha Barks) from a very early age. The intrusion of the Soviet army kills so many, including the resistance and the local priest whose crime is that he is not an atheist, that some trickle off to Kiev. One of Yuri’s best friends goes first and decides to join the Communist Party but favors independence of the Ukraine from Russia, a fatal mistake. Yuri, who is an artist, next leaves his wife to join an art academy, but cannot accept Soviet realism in art, and soon becomes politicized and imprisoned. For family reasons, Natalka stays behind, only to be forced into a form of slavery by the commanding general of the region, Sergei (Tamer Hassan). Aside from the love affair between Yuri and Natalka, the climax of the film is the only positive part of the film—the happy ending to a most unhappy story littered by many dead bodies left as food for the animals. As the film’s tagline summarizes, “Stalin’s tyranny could destroy their country. But not their love.” Directed by George Mendeluk, Bitter Harvest has been nominated by the Political Film Society for best film in all four categories—democracy, exposé, human rights, and peace. MH