russians invade ukraine kicks their asses

Ukrainian kids content producers fear for industry’s future

With survival the only current priority, work on major projects has stopped, studios have become shelters, and the industry’s bright future has dimmed.
March 21, 2022

For Ukrainian kids content producers, Russia’s invasion is striking deeply on two fronts. Lives and livelihoods are being lost as bombs rain down on cities, and at the same time, the industry must watch as its ambition to become a European production hub crumbles.

With projects stalled as businesses shut down, the future of the local industry is in limbo, local producers tell Kidscreen.

Kyiv-based media company Film.UA Group—which owns multiple companies, including animation studio Animagrad—has shifted its focus from animating projects to helping citizens and using its resources to counter Russian propaganda.

Prior to the invasion, Animagrad’s pipeline included CG-animated feature film Mavka: The Forest Song, which was set 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 has to choose between pursuing love and following her duty.

Distributors such as Germany’s Koch Films, Italia Film International and Cinemart (Slovakia) have pre-bought the film, but now it’s unclear if Animagrad and Film.UA will be able to deliver it on time, says Kateryna Vyshnevska, Film.UA’s head of development and co-productions.

Since the invasion began, Film.UA has been sheltering more than 70 people in its studios, and its teams are busy backing up content for ongoing projects and figuring out how work will continue remotely. With progress on its main projects stalled, the company is now using its resources and experience to fight back against Russia’s misinformation campaign with content of its own.

Two weeks ago, Animagrad released a Flash-animated short series called How Russians Tried to Invade Ukraine and Got Their Asses Kicked (four x one minutes) on social media. Featuring a darkly comedic tone–which Vyshnevska compares to South Park–the project makes fun of 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 also teamed up with Ukrainian prodco Mamahohotala and broadcaster 1+1 Media Group to launch 2D-animated short The Good Always Wins on March 10. Available on 1+1 Media’s YouTube channel in multiple languages, the short uses a bullying analogy to explain the conflict to kids ages three and up. (The English-language version had amassed more than 8,000 views as of press time.)

And the company is contributing 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 at the moment, and millions of Ukrainians relocating to countries throughout Europe and beyond,” says Vyshnevska. “These kids and these families would love to watch Ukrainian toons on [international] channels.”

For Anna Liutko, founder of YouTube channel manager eMorphosys Ukraine, the conflict has had complex effects on both her personal and professional life.

Just before the war began, she was in Russia with her mother, who is a Russian citizen. But as Russia began its invasion, it quickly became clear that Ukranians were not welcome in the country anymore, she says. She managed to get out, and is now living in Sweden.

Her flight from the country echoes how Ukraine’s kids content business has cut its ties with its closest regional partner.

With a shared language and culture, Ukrainian kids content tends to travel easily in Russia, and Ukrainian kidcos have traditionally made a large portion of their revenue by distributing and selling their content there, says Liutko. She manages kids channels on YouTube–including Childhood TV (227,000 subscribers)–that generate views, and therefore revenue, from Russia’s large population.

Prior to the invasion, there was a general sense that Ukraine’s animation industry was on the rise. Creatives were excited about the potential of becoming a hub for kids production in Europe, with short films like T.T.M’s Deep Love and Studio Kapi’s Tiger is Strolling Around picking up awards and getting noticed on the international festival circuit. In 2019, there were roughly 200,000 companies and more than 350,000 employees in the country’s entertainment sector, according to The Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economics.

But Russia’s invasion has crushed all of that progress, says Liutko.

Declaring itself an ally to the West, and shutting down all its business with Russia, Ukraine’s animation industry will be feeling the effects of this conflict long after the war ends.

“Ukrainian companies will no longer work with Russian companies after this,” she says. “Our country will be totally different, and it will take a little time for Ukraine to get over this economic crisis because half of our country is totally destroyed,” says Liutko.

For its part, the Russian Animated Film Association issued an open letter today asking that global cultural industries reconsider barriers to “international cooperation,” particularly in the area of animation and children’s entertainment.

It’s a sentiment that’s likely to ring hollow on the ground in Kyiv, where Russian artillery rained down one of its heaviest air strikes to date today. It’s also where Ukrainian animation studio Glowberry has its headquarters.

Another subsidiary of UA.Film, Glowberry was working on season two of its 2D-animated series Brave Bunnies when the war started. The UK’s Milkshake! acquired season one (52 x seven minutes) back in 2020, along with HBO Max (LatAm), ABC (Australia), YLE (Finland) and Nick Jr. (UK). And Aardman is selling the series globally, with Spin Master and DeAgostini repping its consumer products interests as licensing agents.

But all work on the second season has now stopped. Crew members have fled the country, or become volunteers supporting refugees and the war effort, says creator and Glowberry creative producer Olga Cherepanova.

Brave Bunnies is one of the first Ukrainian kids shows to successfully build a global audience, says Cherepanova. But with a war raging, business as usual has become impossible.

“The terrible situation with 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, taking part in the daily defense of their homes, or being forced to leave this country to save their children and parents with one backpack, without knowing what to do tomorrow.”

Despite the turmoil, Cherepanova is hopeful that production can resume soon on 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 and keep business going.

“All our thoughts and prayers right now are for peace,” says Cherepanova. “We are trying to relocate those employees who cannot participate in the war, and also expand the team with more foreign professionals and partners. We are all very hopeful that the war will be over soon.”

About The Author
News editor for Kidscreen. Ryan covers tech, talent and general kids entertainment news, with a passion for kids rap content and video games. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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