Trenches (2021) - full transcript

In Donbas Ukraine, while precarious truces and ceasefires are negotiated far away by diplomats, Ukrainian soldiers fight against separatists supported by Russia. At an age when some are experiencing the best years of their lives, in the frontline men and women are fighting, condemned to dig and dig up again the trenches, while bombs keep on falling on them. French war journalist and first-time director Loup Bureau takes us on an immersive and stunning cinematic journey revealing the naked truth and roughness of survival, in what is called to be the last conflict on European soil.

In February 2014, in Maidan Square,

the Ukrainian people
rose up against government corruption.

Pretexting a coup,

Russia secretly sent
soldiers to the Donbas region

to support Ukrainian separatists.

The Ukrainian army intervened.

After months of combat
and thousands of casualties,

a ceasefire was signed.

But this did not put an end to the war.

SVITLODARSK, Ukrainian army positions


More towards me.

How are our ''friends'' doing?

It's quiet.

Our ''dear friends'' are there.

The newcomers are fairly calm.

They rarely fire.

The last guys were more aggressive.

Real brutes.

Can you see, opposite us,
one, two, three, four, five, six...

Six stump-looking things,
like tree stumps.

Those are their outposts.

They like roaming around in the bushes
over there.

But we see them.

We've just been hit with a grenade.

And another one.

They're bombarding around the bunker.

We have to retaliate.

Madrid, this is Andy.

They're still bombarding us
from the left of the pine trees.

I've decided to respond with the DShK.

More! Copy that.


Take that, big boy!


- I'm running for cover!
- Ok, we leaving?

Bring another!

Kolya, let's go. We'll come back.

This place is nerve-racking.

We built a sort of covering.

But if anything high-caliber reaches us,

I don't think it'll be much use.

Either everything will disintegrate...

or maybe a miracle...

There's some sense of safety,
but not much.

In my opinion,

this is the most dangerous
and nerve-racking position.

In those moments,
do you think of your loved-ones?

Do you have a girlfriend?

I did.

When you're in the army,
it's the kind of relationship

that's really complicated.

During the night, she'd say...

she'd wait for me.

But in the end, it didn't work out.

In two years,

she's the second girl
to say she'd wait for me.

But in the end, nothing.

The first one admitted

she wouldn't be able to wait two years.

The second one just bailed out.

That's it.

Back to work.

This spot's a tough one!

I'm taking a break.

Get over here, man!

Shit, they're firing.

You guys should've worn something else.

We're outta here!

God is with us.

I think he exists, but he's hiding.

- You all safe and sound?
- We're ok.

Damn, why aren't our guys retaliating?

They're waiting for the other side
to run out of ammo.

Talk about anticipation.

They knew we'd come here
and that there'd be action.

They could at least
retaliate with heavy artillery.

We're gonna have to rebuild everything.

I guess they're done bombarding.

Guess that's the end of it.

Tychy, nothing to report.

This is Madrid.
You can come out one by one.

What's wrong?

The roof caved in over there.

What's up?

What the fuck's going on?
Are you kidding me?

- Dammit!
- Where were you?

In a hole with a log roof.

I was sitting on the ground shaking.

I smoked a cig for 5 minutes
under the hissing and the ''booms.''

What a fricking mess.

- Where are they falling?
- I dunno.

I fell into the trench

and lay there thinking,
''One's gonna land here.''

I ran to the protected hole...

and one fell right next to it.

- You must've thought you were done for.
- Fuck, man!

I looked around thinking,
''End of the road.''

I don't know how we can stand it.

The arbor's gone.

It was destroyed by the blast.

Blown to bits, I swear.



The arbor.
The summer dining room.

Shit, right next door!
I left my food there!

Sorry, buddy,
but you won't be finding it.

We need dozens of those protected holes,

every 3 feet.

I'm sick of this.

- And where's Sergei?
- I dunno.

We scattered like mice.

The fuckers.

It scared the dog.

Sons of bitches.

What's with you?

It's a miracle
no one got killed this morning.

The day is only starting.

All I can think of is foul language

to express how I feel.

Artillery reacted like real pros.

They hit their target on the third shot.

They used the fork tactic
to reach the third target.

Real pros who made good use
of two pieces of artillery.

You see the result.

Your average soldier can't do that.

He's not trained for it.

Where will you live,
if everything is destroyed?

We'll build something else.

A shelter out of the way.

We're waiting for a delivery to start.

Since the beginning of the day,

Ukrainian positions

have been fired at
18 times by separatists

using high caliber weapons.

Ukrainian soldiers
have respected the ceasefire

and have not responded
to these provocations...

Our commander already has
the same software.

Watch. For example,

you can get rid of this thing here
or something else.

Shall we warm up
with an easy Mortal Kombat Ultimate?

- No, a harder one.
- Ok, let's start hard.

Are you installing a game?


People think we're fighting,
and they're just...

- We're gonna pop Russians.
- Exactly!

What else could we do?

I remember playing
on the console.

Which one?

Man, the console, I mean...

Sony, PlayStation, Nintendo...

- A tank driver was playing.
- The Nintendo was awesome.

It was an awesome game!

Back home, in Novohrad,
finding work isn't easy.

Especially for a woman.

Even at the Cersanit plant?

I don't think you realize, commander.

At Cersanit you breathe in so much dust
that you ruin your...

Might as well chill here
and do your nails.

Do I have a manicure?

- 'Course you do!
- Like all women.

I don't do manicures.

Like I do?

What do they make at Cersanit?
Toilet bowls?


You could be ''the queen of johns.''

Enough with the nicknames.
Our commander already gave me one.

- One nobody can pronounce.
- What is it?



We looked it up and...

we found ''queen of the underworld.''

The underworld's out there.

Wonderful! The company commander
called me that last year.

I'd complained everyone else
had a nickname.

Mine was just my surname: Anatolievna.

She's Anatolievna,
our little Anatolievna...

Pacha, be quiet!

- Baron, you want French toast?
- Yes. With eggs?

Where are you aiming?
You could kill someone.

Shit! I cut my tattoo!

You shouldn't have wet it.

Go on, pour.

Dang! Your fingers are messed up!


That's brutal.
He cut three of his fingers!

I'm shocked!

What a moron.

A total moron.

Grab a flask, I'll give some blood.

This promises to be fun.

We're blowing up the shelter.

It'll be cool!

The Wheel, this is Semione, over.

Copy. Over.

We're blowing a new trench in a minute.

Copy that.

Balkans and Chpak, do you copy?


Loud and clear.

Fedia is going to move toward us.

Don't let him through.

- Pachtiete?
- Yeah!

- Ready?
- Yeah.

Let it rip!

The cat is gonna flip out.

Holy shit! Good job!


Kitty cat...

Kitty cat.

Why don't you sweep the landing?

I don't know what to say to that.

Kitty had a fright.

Little kitty had a fright.

The table needs to be wiped off.

Pachtiete, come wipe the damn table!

And wash the cups.

- It's not my doing.
- Bite me!

What's the matter with you?

Only one more week
and you're rid of us!

One week of patience.

That's the Beard's voice.

Go ahead. Over.

You still there?

Gimme a minute.

Bring some men.
We'll do roll call

Hold on.

Let's go, guys.


Go, go!

Shit, they've already fired twice.

That must be The Hat
launching another attack.

Commander, we're being fired at.

I know we're being fired at.

Is my tea still over there?

Commander, we'll make you another cup.

Balkans, this is Semione, over.

tell us where they're firing from.

Will it be calmer in an hour?

- No.
- No?

It sure as hell won't be over.

It'll last longer...

It's 3:30 p.m., let's say 4:30.

That gives you about 40 minutes to rest.

You want a pretty girl like her?

I can introduce you.

You found new ones.

What're you doing under the awning?

Get your telescope, goddammit!

Asshole! Balkans,
you're at maximum altitude. Got that?

You keep watch night and day,
you don't hide out in the shade!

Maly, this is Chpak. Say again!

Chpak, this is Maly.

Who's firing? 8-0.

Maly, this is Chpak. Fire is coming
from enemy position The Hat.

Kabra-Semione, 1-2.

Keep your eyes open.
We're firing at enemy position The Hat.

80% of my body is covered in tattoos.

- Really? 80?
- Yes.

I have them all over,

except on my hands, neck and face.

I even have some on my head.

You're at about 30%,
just to your hairline.

And here?

It's visible only if I shave my head.

What's the point?

Feet and fingers, too?

Yeah. And I already have a sketch

for the left and right foot.

Me too.

- Copy, 1-2.
- Asshole! Fuck him, goddammit!

And another!


Madrid, Madrid, this is Kabra, 1-2.


What's going on?

I'm waiting for them to let up
so I can aim at their positions!

At the first pause, wait for my signal.



Anti-tank grenade launcher
firing from The Hat

in the direction
of our mortar batteries.

Right next to the bushes
and aimed at our mortars.

Balkans, go fuck yourselves!
Sons of bitches!

Generally speaking, I'm more comfortable

dealing with boys

who are the same age as my kids.

In their twenties.


at 20,
their heads are full of air, drafts,

you name it.

They simply don't understand that...

it's no picnic.

They're on a frontline,

there are bombardments,

people die

and others...

are seriously injured.

Sometimes they don't

survive their wounds.

They don't understand that.

But you can always find a way
of getting along with them.

I don't know,
I'm used to living with them...

I've grown used

to seeing them come and go,
sticking their nose everywhere,

checking everything out,
spying on everyone,

making fun of me...

It's like nursery school.

They look like grownups,

but some of them are just kids.

It's nursery school.

I'm getting tired
of being a nursery school teacher.

During the bombardment,
they were firing on a large area

because visibility wasn't good.

I was just waiting for it to stop,

hoping things would be ok...

- Were you spooked?
- Yes.

I was scared.
I wanted things to end normally.

Because during an artillery attack,

you never know what the guys might do

on the Russian separatist side.

They might resort to extreme measures,

especially with a shelter like ours.

So you think about that
every night when you go to bed.

I put my headphones on
and listen to music,

as long as Internet works,

to try and relax enough to sleep.

At first,
I fell asleep more or less easily,

but lately,

without music, I just can't.

I'm worried...

I told the boys:

We arrived together,
we're leaving together.

We'll all come out unharmed,

everything'll be fine.

How about we blow-dry his hair?

Change razors or the blade.

Give me one.

Open the razor.

Oxana, you're next.

You just try to cut my hair.

First we'll shave your head.

I'll do a scissor cut.

Yeah, right.

Don't hit so hard!

You're shaving his head, be careful!

Go empty the bucket.

The separatists are gonna love this.
What a place to wash.

Go ahead.

Pour over here.

Hurry, we're running out.
And I'm not getting you more.


This is Tychy.

Madrid, this is Tychy.

Madrid. This is Tychy.

Madrid, over.




Hello? Do you copy?

Madrid, we need a new battery.

Send Madrid a ''secure line'' code.

Madrid, this is Tychy.
Secure line.

- On 1?
- Yes.

Hello, Madrid?

Answer on Tychy using a secure line.

Yes, just opposite.



Say hi to The Cossack for me.

He said we have to press this button.

That's what I did.

This field telephone
is always giving us trouble.

Did you check
all your assholes' equipment?

Yes, but the thing is,
they don't all carry it.

There's no way to force them.

They don't all carry it?

I tell them, ''Take your first-aid kit!''

Who doesn't? The new boys?

No. I'll tell them again today.

I'm coming over, and if I catch one...

Besides, you need to know.
It's your damned job.

You're the sergeant.

They don't carry it,

they won't take it, the little shits.

But this is how it works:

You use the wounded's kit,
not your own.

If you use your own personal kit,
for fuck's sake,

while you're on duty...

If you hand yours over,

and then you're injured,

then what do you do?

The method recommended by NATO
and common sense

is that you use the wounded's kit

because you are the caregiver

and if you're hit by a stray bullet...

For fuck's sake,
your men are morons,

a bunch of blockheads.

So they have to be told
every two weeks...

There are three automatic reflexes
your morons need to acquire.

Three, that's it.
They're incapable of taking in more.

And it would be of no use.

The first...

First: how to stop hemorrhaging.

Second: how to check airways,
in case something's stuck in the throat.

Typically, if the guy is unstable,
meaning unconscious,

you have to insert a...

I don't remember the exact term.

You know, a little nasal tube.

Gross, Doussia! Dang!

Gross, dammit!

Yeah, that was you!
Don't look at me like that.

- The dog broke wind.
- Scat!

You stink!

Doussia, you're a girl, come on.

You stink so bad
a grown-ass man can't take it.

So if a guy yells 'cause he's in pain,

in shock or anxious,

it means he's alive.

He may not be in great shape,
he's injured, but...

you have to check
the silent ones first.

That's NATO protocol.

Ask, ''Are you alive?''
If he answers, that's enough.

Why rush into the middle of an assault
yelling: ''Vassia, you alive?''

He answers, ''Fuck yeah!''

- Do I take his weapon?
- Never!

Keep firing.

What's most important isn't his life,

it's the operation you're leading,

which your unit's survival depends on.

If we're in the middle of an attack,

He can scream all he likes.

I'll tend to him, if I have time.

What will happen
to your parents and friends,

if you die during this war?

I don't know.

Have you thought about it?

it hasn't even crossed my mind.

I mean, I...

No, I really can't answer that question.

I really don't know how they'd feel.

How they'd react.

They'd empty a bottle of vodka

in memory
of a guy who was their friend

and the good times spent with him.

But I don't know, exactly,

how each of them would take the news.

I don't have a single close friend
I can count on

in case of an emergency.

I only have...

pals, that's all.

We say that we're friends,
but really,

I don't think I have any true friends.

I have my parents, that's all I have.

I know a lot of people, that's true,

in Dnipro and elsewhere,

who'll post something on social media,

a lit candle on their profile picture.

''He was my friend, a good guy.''

''The best always go first.''

That's what you usually write.

I'm sure that's what will happen.
No use dreaming.

As for my parents, I don't know.

I think it'd be really hard on them.

In terms of...

their health
that could really deteriorate.

I don't know what would happen.

Shit, let's split!

Guys, inside, dammit!

They're firing. That way, right?

How were they able
to get close to the hill?

The next post over sees the hill
and the entire field.

So do you.
How could they get so close?

We couldn't see a thing.

We saw them when they were already
really close to us.

They must've crawled through,
or walked.

ER, right?

I'm calling from the 30th brigade.

A soldier was admitted today.

He has first- and second-degree burns

on a large portion of his body.
Do you have more information for me?

He arrived today?

Yes, he was brought in this morning.

I understand.

Thanks so much.
May God bless you with good health.

You've been a great help.

65% of his body.

Is he in bad shape?

Very bad.
His body is burned all over.

He's in intensive care.

Critical care or intensive care,
it's the same thing.

He's no longer on a respirator.
He's conscious.

65% of his skin is burned.

For the moment,
no prognosis, but there's hope.


Want a shovel?

No, I prefer the pickax.

Nothing's ready yet, there's no trench.

I can't see myself launching rockets
through the field

at a distant enemy.

- How much are the Marlboros?
- I dunno.

You didn't blow anything up here?

Semione did.
It wouldn't help us any...

We finish building,
then we can get back to it.

We'll give 'em hell.

We've got two wounded.

- Will we avenge them?
- They'll pay.


When we're done building the trench.

We're gonna fucking hurt them.

Or... whatever...

We'll get them later.

Doesn't matter, but they're gonna pay.

Do we need more or is that enough?
I've had it.

- I'm sick of the shelter.
- Do camouflage.

How long have we been
on the camouflage?

Why are we bothering with this shit?

Do you know the prayer to Jesus?

- No.
- No?

That's a shame.

It's just a dozen words:

''Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,

''have mercy on me, a sinner.''
That's all.

What if I'm not a sinner?

You're one hell of a sinner
with all your tattoos!

There's a dude there with headphones.

What is that?
Poor Yorick!

He's covered in puzzling drawings.

When he's old,

the idiot'll have the shakes,

he'll go bald
and all the crap on his head will show.

What's that gonna look like?

Your old girlfriend
will look out the window and say,

''Look, a whore.''

''Here comes the veteran.''

You'll be two old-timers with a cane.

That's what I wanna look like
when I'm old.

Let me read
what the girls write to you.

That's my little sister.

Oh, sorry.

Didn't she offer
to wash those tattoos off with soap?

- You're not an only child?
- No.

I'm adopted

and my sister's the same age as I am.

They felt sorry for me,

so they took me in.

My grandfathers
didn't tell me much about the war.

They both fought
in the great war for the nation.

And then, I saw what really happens

in the infantry and at war.

A shovel.

To sum it up, I've more often
held a shovel, a crowbar,

and everything you need
to put up fortifications, than weapons.

What can you do?

If you wanna stay alive, dig!

Anyone who thinks this is a civil war

is mistaken.

If it were,
it would have been over long ago.

The Russian Federation
is pulling the strings

and, clearly,
we can only ask EU countries

to help us and put pressure

on the Russian Federation.


European politicians
are powerless assholes,

spineless bitches.

There's no difference
between supporting a country

and whining like a bitch,

repeating, ''No, dammit, no!''

Why do they lift sanctions?

Why do they talk to them?

There are political interests,
it's obvious.

It's all a sham.

The real interests are financial.

Some countries need oil.

Germany, for example.

Others want to sign contracts
with the Russians.

That's why they're in it!

And if you dig a little deeper,
it's simply about

delivering gas or oil,
or something else.

The reason is always the same:
everyone is after money.

It's all about money.

We just want independence.
Leave us alone.

Mind your own business.

But no. They come here.

Why come fuck with us?

How is what's going on in my country
any of your business?

Butt out.

They have their own shit to deal with,
and they come here.

We don't need your shit.

We have enough of our own.

We adjust aim

and as soon as I see movement
on their side,

we'll respond immediately.

They won't have time
to hear the rockets.

We'll have to reload
the rocket launcher fast.

And we'll fire four rounds
on the trenches.

1200 at 185.

Let's say 200 to round it off.

How much is that?

Six seconds.

Hold the sack for me, man!

Come on!

I'll hand you the sacks.

Here, let me pass you the sack.

Soon, we'll all be
dreaming of these sacks in our sleep.

I'll dream

that I carried a million sacks
and passed out.

And we'd take you
straight to the hospital.

I'd like to see you try.

You won't get far,
unless I'm going feet first.

- You got that?
- Yes.

If you complain about a bad knee...

Yesterday, I saw you take a sack.

The dust lifted as you walked,

like Saint Peter walking on water.

Screw you!

You ran from that tree like a lynx.

The cartridge sank into the ground
before exploding.

It lifted a cloud of dust.

- We all have our own perspective.
- What?

For some,

we're at war,
for others, in a video game.

- Slava, you alive?
- Yes.

I'm listening.

Between the armored vehicle
and Chpak.

- An explosion?
- A projectile.

Will The Horseshoe
stop fucking with us?


There's a ceasefire agreement.

The problem is that...

a clause says
it's our criminal responsibility...

We can be put on trial,
if we open fire.

What if our lives are in danger?

That's the problem, it's not specified.

Read the damn document.

There it is.

There it is...

That's the firing post
where they launched

one hell of a whopper
with their rocket launcher.

There are panels in the way,
but it's a shelter.

They're the ones firing
in this direction.

That's the second firing post.

We can make them out.

They're hiding here.

That's where I want to hit them.

They're 4 km away, maybe 3.5.

I'll get 'em.

The fuckers.

They think no one will retaliate.

You just wait...

Construction’s almost done.

Did the commander
tell you when we'd attack?


Sunday, for chrissakes.

Everyone has to be ready.
Is that clear?

Here's the plan.

What time do we start tonight?


We plan on starting at 1900 hours.

To avoid reflections.

Check where the sun will be.

There won't be reflections.

The tanks and everything else
need to be in position.

We have to be quick.

Who goes 1st, 2nd, 3rd?
Not everyone at the same time.

One channel for us all is very little.

If three fire simultaneously,
we'll have a problem.

So I suggest one squad fires,
then a 2nd, then a 3rd.

In that order.

Ok, to recap:

The machinegun does away with The Hat.

Then, the vehicle opens fire.

Then, we change targets,

fire with the rocket launchers.
That's it.

You want the tank
to go in right after that?

No, look...

Don't forget that both its canons
have defects.

Exactly, it might as well not move
and keep shooting.

It'll be fine.

If I have it come back,

the enemy will hear everything.

They'll return to their positions
and fire at us.

the kid will gun 'em down.

If the canons on your vehicle jam,

the kid will have to cover your tank
or the other way around.

Chpak! This is The Beard, over.

This is Chpak, over.

It's summer.


Volkane, this is Riaba, over.

Riaba, aim lower
as soon as you receive me.

As soon as you receive me,
aim lower.

Riaba, one more time!

- Man wounded, it's Gricha.
- Gricha!

Balkans, how bad’s the injury?

Do you need my help?
I can come back.

Where are you?

I have my bulletproof vest on,
I'm halfway there.

2 months later

- Hey!
- How you doing?

- Hi.
- Shit, Jora!

Hey, man!

On the way, I was thinking,
''Jora's a nice guy!''

Yeah, we're going home.

Everyone, over here!

Except one who stays on guard!

You coming?

Put it over there, Sergei.

- What the hell were you doing?
- Listening to orders.

I said: the submachine gun!

Keep the bulletproof vests on

the entire way back!

Speed it up! Come closer!

That's the commander's spot.
Here is better.

- Pavlo!
- I'm here.

Submachine gun,
bulletproof vest and helmet.

Line up!


We are heading
toward the hamlet of Louganke,

next to Bakhmut, our meeting point.

Your orders
are to respect security measures

when the column sets in motion.

The person in charge of each vehicle
keeps an eye on pressure

and water temperature.

At ease!

Go to your vehicles!

Ok, let's hustle.

Whiskey and coke!

Whiskey and coke!
We're going home.

We're done, man!
We're going on vacation.

When I get home,
I wanna drink and fuck.

That's my goddamned dream.

I can't read everyone else's mind.

They can do what they want.

That's for sure: booze and bitches.

I wanna see my family.

Some wanna drink, I wanna go fishing.

A man's gotta fish!

Everyone has plans: fishing, drinking...

I've lost my marbles.

Overall, I don't feel so great.

Before joining the army,

I had a busy social life,

I had friends to contact
about work and such.


I've changed a lot

and my ideas have changed.

I wonder what my return to civilian life
is gonna be like.

I need to spend time
with interesting people.

That's what I think.

Like a psychiatrist?

Get lost! You're a born joker.

In 2021, the war in Ukraine rages on.

It is the last conflict
on European soil.