A Sniper's War

The story of a sniper fighting on the side of the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine

A Sniper's War Described as a "stealth invasion" of Ukraine, the proxy-war being waged in Donbass is a contentious conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the West. In the midst of swirling propaganda and controversy this brave doc follows Deki, a pro-Russian sniper tasked with defending his separatist comrades on the frontline of the conflict. In the midst of escalating international tensions, the film exposes an unseen side to this secretive war.

“Awesome shot!” Deki has just taken out an enemy, an adversary known as ‘the Mariupol sniper’. It marks his ninth and final kill of the day. The elimination of the Mariupol sniper provides closure to a long-running saga. “Here I’m fighting three wars. First, for the people of the Donetsk Republic. Second, with the Mariupol sniper. And the third one is my internal war.”

Dejan Beric, known as Deki, is a legendary Serbian sniper fighting for the Donetsk People’s Republic in their war against Ukraine. He joined the rebel separatists in defiance of NATO, who he blames for the destruction of Serbia in the Bosnian Wars of the nineties, and who now support the Ukrainian war effort. “I never forgot what NATO did to Serbia. They destroyed my country. I knew the same would happen here. I had to come here to stop them. So it wouldn’t be the same as with Serbia.”

Deki is confident in the justice of his cause. Invited to speak to a class of teenagers at Donetsk High School, he insists that he feels no sympathy for his victims. “I shot the criminals who were killing civilians here. How can I feel sorry for them? I don’t feel anything, honestly. And I don’t lose sleep over it.”

Yet in rare moments of vulnerability, Deki acknowledges the moral ambiguity of the war and his participation in it. “There are no good men in war. Because when you kill someone, that person has a family, a mother, maybe a brother, a wife. A sniper is the most difficult job in the army.”

The psychological burden of the war and his role as a sniper takes its toll on Deki, as does his yearning for home. “I miss my son very much. I miss Serbia, it’s a beautiful country. It’s so fragrant in the spring. The water, the fields smell great. It’s wonderful." Yet Deki is unable to return: in Serbia, a law has been passed mandating the arrest of returning combatants. Nor does he feel mentally ready to return to civilian life. “I went there thinking it would be a few months, but then I couldn’t leave. I became a different person.” This, despite his insistence he remains the same. “Deki is a Serb, a man, a normal person.”

Reviews and More

“A Sniper’s War is a powerful and disturbing doc from a perspective we don’t often see” –
The Hollywood Reporter

“The result is a stunning film that will knock you back in your seat and show you a wider world” –
Bradley Gibson, Film Threat

A “stunning portrait of a Serb who volunteered his lethal skills for the problematic Donetsk Republic” -
Louis Proyect, Counter Punch

LaurelArizona Film Festival - Best Foreign Documentary
LaurelRiversight Film Festival - Best Documentary, Best Editing, Best Cinematography
LaurelLower East Side Film Festival - Best of Fest Prix D’or
LaurelWe Won Together (Crimea) - Nickolay Mikosha Prize, Press Prize
Laurel18th Beverly Hills Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelBig Sky Documentary Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelMoscow International Documentary Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelSanta Barbara International Film Festival - Official Selection

The Producers

Olya Schechter - Director

Olya Schechter, a New York-based filmmaker, studied politics and environmental studies at New York University. After an internship at Newsweek she entered a documentary program at New York Film Academy. While studying she became fascinated with the Russian - United States relationships and the Ukrainian crisis. As a result she spent three years working on her first feature documentary on the front lines in Eastern Ukraine.

Making The Film

I was compelled to make A Sniper’s War after I met Deki during my trip to the Donetsk People’s Republic. I was immediately intrigued by his story and curious why he left Serbia to join the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. At first he was convinced that I was an American spy and it took a long time to gain his trust in order to get the access to tell the story. For over two years I traveled back and forth between New York and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Living at the military base with the rebels I eventually gained access to the front lines. I worked with one cinematographer or shot by myself. My goal was to blend in with the soldiers in order to capture the reality as is. Making this film has been a challenging exercise in objectivity. I realized that the only way to make this film politically neutral is to tell the story from Deki’s point of view. The more time I spent with him the more I wondered: is he a soldier or a killer? I tried to capture that duality in every scene. Eventually, I began to see him as a product of historic events that have shaped his world views - very different from mine.

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