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TV review: Ukraine From Above: Secrets from the front line; Inside Russia: Traitors and heroes — Storyville; BBC News; and ITV News at Ten

03 March 2023

BBC

Alla, a social-media journalist, records a vox pop for her YouTube channel, in Inside Russia: Traitors and heroes — Storyville (BBC4, Monday of last week)

Alla, a social-media journalist, records a vox pop for her YouTube channel, in Inside Russia: Traitors and heroes — Storyville (BBC4, Monday of ...

OF LAST week’s many programmes commemorating the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I choose two. Ukraine from Above: Secrets from the front line (Channel 4, Sunday of last week) celebrated not merely the extraordinary courage and resilience of that nation’s citizens, but also their flexibility and innovation.

As soon as the enemy crossed the border, there was a kind of immediate unofficial social mobilisation, as people devoted whatever skills and abilities they possessed to the war effort. Drone enthusiasts, in particular, realised that they could, at the short distances that their toys could fly, pinpoint the position of invading tanks and military vehicles, passing on the co-ordinates to the military and contributing greatly to the rout of the initial assault on Kyiv.

The mastery of social media, possessed by children worldwide, here contributed lethal accuracy to immediate monitoring and reporting of the Russians’ progress. Technicians in all fields turned their hands to war work: we saw elderly hobbyists devising homemade bomb-carrying drones, and others using 3-D printers to manufacture simple weapons at a fraction of the commercial cost.

The amateur drones recorded even darker material: film of Russian atrocities and the deliberate targeting of schools, hospitals, and shelters is building up the cases to prove war crimes. Sequence after sequence depicted before-and-after shots of total devastation: thriving villages, towns, and cities reduced to rubble.

Inside Russia: Traitors and heroes — Storyville (BBC4, Monday of last week) chronicled the other side: the courageous defiance of the few who dare to speak out and act against President Putin’s regime. Tightening screws of repression leave ever fewer loopholes to be exploited for dissent. Even to refer to the invasion of Ukraine as a “war” is illegal. Those who refuse to accept the official propaganda face a bitter choice: emigration (if you can find a way to get out) or prison.

We saw how distressing even those who most strongly opposed Russia’s actions found the reality of leaving what still remains, despite everything, their beloved motherland. Perhaps the most shocking aspect was how the vast majority of Russians interviewed fervently believed and supported the Kremlin’s view: that Ukraine is a fascist state, just like Hitler’s Germany, which deliberately provoked the conflict; and that heroic Russian combatants are sacrificing their lives in a noble and holy cause.

We have all watched the week’s news at 10 p.m. with even greater attention than usual, watching for signs of the predicted Russian push to mark the anniversary. But BBC News at Ten becomes more and more irritating, as hard news is pushed out to make space for extended magazine-type coverage of just a few topics, too many interviews with “ordinary people”, and too great a prominence given to the journalists and presenters. ITV News at Ten is now far superior.

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