‘How is Katia?’ Tackles Kyiv’s Tangled Bureaucracy
In Christina Tynkevych’s How is Katia?, Anya, as portrayed by Anastasiya Karpenko, is a 35-year-old paramedic and single mother who must tend to her 12-year-old girl, Katia, while living with her sister and ailing mother. When tragedy befalls Anya in the worst way imaginable, things go from incomprehensible to drastically cruel in a matter of hours. An ideal relationship between mother and daughter turns to grief as young Katia is hit by a car on her way to school. The system collapses all around Anya; this while she must confront unspeakable personal loss and pain.
In an interview with Cineuropa, Tynkevych opined that her film “is a woman’s story. But for me, it developed quite naturally because I grew up in the 1990s and I saw quite a lot of almost exclusively female families. I have a father and mother but my parents divorced, so I also grew up with my mother and grandmother. I understand that kind of life. There are a lot of different references taken from real life, but I can’t say that one character is one particular person. It’s all mixed up,” Tynkevych said.
How is Katia? takes an unvarnished look at the misgivings within contemporary Ukraine. The film takes place months — and even years — before Russia’s invasion of the country. Feb. 24, 2023 marks the somber one year anniversary since the start of the war. How is Katia?, Tynkevych’s debut feature, grew out of a Short she previously screened a few years ago at Odessa Film Festival.
In addition to delving into municipal and behavioral corruption, How is Katia? is also a tender declaration of a mother’s love for her child as well as an attempt to understand whether catharsis can be found after grief. It questions if revenge can be justifiable — all the while bringing to light some uncomfortable truths about the gaps of order within Ukraine. It is a brave picture that addresses how a nation needs to reform its tangled bureaucratic problems and must take care of its citizens.
“The film is about just this. It is about a child who does not have insurance. It is about a broken political and social system,” observes Vyacheslav Hnatyuk, a Ukrainian-born teacher and journalist. “People are not insured, the elites live in luxury, and the nouveau riche’s offspring drive at whatever speed they want while going unpunished. The laws are always complicated, so the lawyers will find their ways.”
How is Katia? has screened at various film festivals since the summer of 2022. In mid February, it made its North American premiere at Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Tynkevych, who grew up in Kyiv, moved to London at 19 where she studied Film and Television at the University of Westminster. She said that her work has been greatly inspired by the social realism mode of filmmaking.
“I understood that, in principle, the main conflict in the film’s much broader and that there was still much [more] to say and dig into,” Tynkevych also told Cineuropa. “I basically built the structure of the Short in such a way that it was not told in a linear way. I think I did so in order to better tell this story and capture this emotion. I realized that I wanted to develop this film further and the development took quite a long time. We worked on development of the script for three years with various co-authors,” she added.
Before Russia’s brutal war began, a source of great tragedy for many Ukrainians in recent years had been fatal traffic accidents — most of which left culprits unaccountable for their crimes. “It seems to me that every person living in Ukraine has faced it,” said Tynkevych. “Our lives have been permeated with it to the point where it appears normal and we don’t even notice. It was also important for me to talk about what Ukraine’s like today… Well, not today, but two or three years ago. It was important to emphasize certain social problems. Also, I can’t say that this is a direct reference, but I read a lot of news articles about all these traffic accidents that were happening. There was a very powerful story about Olena Zaitseva; a girl from Kharkiv who killed [multiple] people at a bus stop. These are the realities in which we live. It is not all fiction.”
How is Katia? is “distinctly contemporary Ukrainian,” adds Hnatyuk. “I did not live in Ukraine two hundred years ago, or one hundred years ago, or fifty years ago. But this is what I’ve been experiencing in modern Ukraine. The medical system’s screwed up. It’s not only with the medical system, but also with social protection.”
So, is it ironic that the film’s lead works in the medical profession?
“No, it’s not ironic. For Anya to work in the medical profession helps move the story along,” replies Hnatyuk. “The film reminds me how unprotected a person is in Ukraine, and how politicians go their own way and don’t perform the basics of what it means to be a politician. [On top of that], it’s an abuse of power. This abuse of power is very bad and unacceptable. It’s not because it’s a poor country. It’s because those who go about their political careers were failing the nation. I say ‘were’ because the current war situation is seen in other terms. But in peaceful times, that’s how the political system failed the nation. How is Katia? is a great film about betrayal of a citizen by the state, of the people by the elites, and of a sister by a sister. It is a film, also, about lawlessness.”