Ukrainian Roman Liubyi’s great documentary Iron Butterflies depicts a moment in July 2014, when the world should have woken up. On that day, pro-Russian troops shot a missile at a commercial Malaysian Airlines plane over Donetsk. All 300 people on board were killed. The Ukrainians assumed that the western world would now understand what was going on with the suppression of protests in Kyiv and the occupation of Crimea. That when our own died, we would start taking action.
But the world looked elsewhere and would do so until February 24, 2022. After seeing Liubyi’s film, it feels like the missile strike was just a terrifying test. An experiment to see how the international community would react, and when it did not, conclusions were drawn about the future. To its own people, Russia first explained that it was a military plane, and when the lie did not stick, that the missile was fired by the Ukrainians. Iron Butterflies recounts Russia’s disinformation project, basing its observations on official sources, like state TV news, and internet videos made by citizens.
Alongside the news broadcasts and interviews, the film features scenes depicting war through dance, as well as old Soviet film material that horrifyingly glorifies the missile that shot down the plane. Still, the most shocking is the furniture maker presenting a child’s bed in the shape of the missile launch pad.
The film begins and ends with an image of a sand drawer, a machine in perpetual motion, working inexorably, until…
Jaana Semeri (translated by Inari Ylinen)
Content warning: imagery from an airplane crash site