For Ukrainian producers of children’s content, the Russian invasion hits hard on two fronts. Lives and livelihoods are being lost as bombs rain down on cities, and at the same time industry must watch for the collapse of its ambition to become a European production hub.
With projects stalled by business closures, the future of local industry is in limbo, local producers say Children’s screen.
Kyiv-based media company Film.UA Group, which owns several companies, including animation studio Animagrad, has shifted its activities from project animation to helping citizens and using its resources to counter Russian propaganda.
Prior to the invasion, Animagrad’s pipeline included feature-length CG animation Mavka: forest songwhich was slated for a December 2022 theatrical release. Inspired by Ukrainian history and culture, the pic centers on Mavka, the guardian of the forest, who falls in love with a human musician and must choose between pursuing love and do duty.
Distributors such as Koch Films in Germany, Italia Film International and Cinemart (Slovakia) have pre-purchased the film, but it is unclear whether Animagrad and Film.UA will be able to deliver it on time, says Kateryna Vyshnevskaresponsible for the development and co-productions of Film.UA.
Since the invasion began, Film.UA has housed more than 70 people in its studios, and its teams are busy backing up content for ongoing projects and determining how work will continue remotely. While progress on its major projects has stalled, the company is now using its resources and experience to counter Russia’s disinformation campaign with its own content.
Two weeks ago, Animagrad released a short Flash animated series titled How the Russians Tried to Invade Ukraine and Got Their Ass Kicked (four x one minutes) on social media. With a dark, comic tone – which Vyshnevska compares to South Park– the project pokes fun at Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his army. In one episode (pictured), for example, Russian soldiers eat poisoned food and explode while on the toilet.
Animagrad has also teamed up with Ukrainian prodco Mamahohotala and broadcaster 1+1 Media Group to release a 2D animated short. Good always wins March 10. Available on 1+1 Media’s YouTube channel in multiple languages, the short film uses a bullying analogy to explain the conflict to children aged three and up. (The English version had amassed over 8,000 views at press time.)
And the company contributes to humanitarian efforts by donating proceeds from its library distribution sales to support the Ukrainian war effort.
“This is not charity. There is a tangible demand for Ukrainian content right now, and millions of Ukrainians are moving to countries in Europe and beyond,” says Vyshnevska. “These children and families would like watch ukrainian toons on [international] chains”.
For Anna Liutkofounder of YouTube channel manager eMorphosys Ukraine, the conflict has had complex effects on her personal and professional life.
Just before the war started, she was in Russia with her mother, who is a Russian citizen. But when Russia began its invasion, it quickly became clear that Ukrainians were no longer welcome in the country, she said. She managed to get by and now lives in Sweden.
Its flight from the country echoes how the Ukrainian children’s content company severed ties with its closest regional partner.
With a common language and culture, Ukrainian kids’ content tends to travel easily to Russia, and Ukrainian kidcos have traditionally made much of their income by distributing and selling their content there, Liutko says. It runs children’s channels on YouTube, including Childhood TV (227,000 subscribers), which generate views, and therefore revenue, for Russia’s large population.
Before the invasion, there was a general feeling that the Ukrainian animation industry was on the rise. Creatives were excited about the potential to become a hub for children’s production in Europe, with shorts like TTM’s Deep Love and Studio Kapi’s Tiger is Strolling Around winning awards and getting noticed on the international festival circuit. . In 2019, there were around 200,000 companies and more than 350,000 employees in the country’s entertainment sector, according to the Eastern Europe and Emerging Economy Research Forum.
But Russia’s invasion crushed all that progress, Liutko says.
Declaring itself allied with the West and closing all its business with Russia, the Ukrainian animation industry would feel the effects of this conflict long after the end of the war.
“Ukrainian companies will no longer work with Russian companies after this,” she says. “Our country will be totally different, and it will take some time for Ukraine to overcome this economic crisis because half of our country is totally destroyed,” Liutko said.
For its part, the Russian Animation Film Association today published an open letter asking global cultural industries to reconsider obstacles to “international cooperation”, especially in the field of animation and entertainment for children.
It’s a sentiment that will likely ring hollow on the ground in kyiv, where Russian artillery rained down one of its heaviest airstrikes yet. This is also where Ukrainian animation studio Glowberry is headquartered.
Another subsidiary of UA.Film, Glowberry was working on the second season of its 2D animated series brave bunnies when the war started. The UK milkshake! acquired the first season (52 x seven minutes) in 2020, with HBO Max (LatAm), ABC (Australia), YLE (Finland) and Nick Jr. (UK). And Aardman sells the series worldwide, with Spin Master and DeAgostini representing its consumer product interests as licensing agents.
But all works on the second season are now stopped. Crew Members Flee Country or Volunteer to Support Refugees and War Effort, Says Glowberry Creator and Creative Producer Olga Cherepanova.
brave bunnies is one of the first Ukrainian children’s shows to successfully build a global audience, says Cherepanova. But with a raging war, the status quo has become impossible.
“The terrible situation of military operations in Ukraine has ruined opportunities for normal business, among other things,” says Cherepanova. “People are forced to think about saving the lives of their families, going to war, participating in the daily defense of their homes, or being forced to leave this country to save their children and parents with one bag. back, not knowing what to do tomorrow.”
Despite the turmoil, Cherepanova hopes production can resume soon brave bunnies. Glowberry’s international partners, including Spanish co-producer Anima Estudios, have been understanding. And the company is currently exploring the possibility of producing the series remotely to try to keep business going.
“All of our thoughts and prayers at this time are for peace,” Cherepanova says. “We are trying to relocate employees who cannot participate in the war, and also to expand the team with more foreign professionals and partners. We are all hopeful that the war will soon be over.