The war in Ukraine rages on as of September 15, 2023. Russian forces have been trying to take control over the country of Ukraine since February 2022.
Despite the chaos, a Taylor alumnus and student have taken up the daunting task of traveling there, and documenting it.
Taylor alumni Ben Tiede ('23) and Taylor student Patrick Marsh ('24) first went to Ukraine on May 18, 2023, and returned June 7.
It started when Tiede went to his missions class and met guest speaker, Josh Tokar, a Ukrainian missionary and Taylor University adjunct professor. Tokar asked Tiede about his background as a camera operator.
“Both Josh and I believed we were trying to convince each other to take me with him,” Tiede said. Tiede wanted a fellow classmate to accompany him.
Tiede picked then junior Patrick Marsh, a Taylor film and media arts major. The two worked on a narrative short film together titled “Nothing in the Middle of Nowhere” where Tiede and Marsh met while filming and became friends.
The duo set off for Ukraine shortly after.
“Our path was led the whole time, in a way that I haven’t felt on any other project,” Marsh said.
Tiede and Marsh had to trudge through the war-torn face of Ukraine to capture stories of families displaced from their homes, which is the primary goal of their documentary.
“Our safety was completely dependent on God,” Tiede said.
Tiede said, to him, the most dangerous part of their trip was walking through a Russian encampment that could have housed improvised explosive devices.
"During their first night in Ukraine, he said, an air raid siren went off in the late hours of the night."
“If there’s a missile hitting the house, we’re going to die no matter what,” Tiede said. “It’s just everyday life for them.”
Marsh said he felt privileged to be able to return home safely after two weeks, as compared to the lives of the Ukrainians who are trying to continue their normal lives in a country under warfare.
“There’s a sense of immense danger, but at the same time, people are just living their life,” Marsh said. “It was kind of a strange duality.”
The potential violence and danger that Tiede and Marsh faced isn’t what they want people thinking about.
The goal for their documentary is to illustrate that Ukrainian people still exist despite the incredibly difficult circumstances despite the incredibly difficult circumstances that plague their everyday lives.
“This isn’t a war documentary,” Marsh said. “It's a war about the people who are involved and what they are suffering through. It’s the right thing to do and the right thing to tell these stories, so you gotta do it.”
Tiede agreed with Marsh. The documentary is about people in war, rather than the war itself, he said.
Tiede shared that a lot of the people that they interviewed didn’t have much time to examine how the war affected them, because they were so intensely focused on relief efforts.
“You’re almost watching therapy sessions as they unfold,” Tiede said.
Marsh shared that the crew has had discussions of second hand trauma due to the sheer volume of the tragic and scary stories that they have heard on their trip.
The most rewarding part of the experience, Marsh said, is being able to share the stories, no matter how intense.
“The reward of bringing people together is something that is unmeasurable in its value,” Marsh said.
On the homefront, Luke Zobel (‘23) – a fellow Taylor Alumnus alongside Tiede – has been hard at work ingesting footage and editing.
Zobel spoke on the difficulty of subtitling all the interviews and his methods of circumventing them. He has used Duolingo – a popular language-learning platform – to learn basic Ukrainian.
“I’ve been able to cut up sentences and put it in a way that hopefully makes sense to Ukrainian listeners,” Zobel said, “It’s exciting and challenging to learn a new process.”
As of September 16 the documentary “We Exist” can be supported through a GoFundMe page about the film, available through the documentary’s official Instagram page: @weexistfilm