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The OKO Opening Ceremony Took Place in Sofia

The IV edition of the OKO International Ethnographic Film Festival has started! On October 1, the huge Rainbow Plaza hall gathered about 500 guests who support Ukraine in one way or another and care about the future of Bulgaria.

The ceremony began with a cappella performance of four Ukrainian folk ballads by the "Pra" trio. The folklorists, graduates of the Department of Folklore Studies at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Oksana Maslo and Myroslava Salii, and the director of the folk studio "Pravytsia" Kateryna Ovinova presented the songs "Kalyno-Malyno," "Oh, from the mountain the wind blows," "Oh, on the mountain barley grows" and "Ship." At the same time, their Bulgarian translation was shown on the screen.

Our event was also attended by honored guests, including Minister of Defense of the Republic of Bulgaria Mr. Todor Tagarev, Ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Bulgaria Mrs. Olesia Ilashchuk, Executive Director of the Executive Agency for Bulgarians Abroad Mrs. Rayna Mandzhukova, Director of the National Film Center of Bulgaria Mr. Petar Todorov, representative of the Mayor of the city of Bolhrad (Odesa region) Mrs. Zhanna Suslina, founder of the My Country Foundation and the Bessarabian Front information resource, Ukrainian Bulgarian Mr. Gennadiy Vorobyov, head of the "Mati Ukraine" Association Mrs. Olena Kotseva, and Manol Peikov, member of the 49th Parliament, philanthropist, Man of the Year, founder of the "Manol Peikov and Friends" Foundation. In total, about 500 people who support Ukraine and make efforts to fight the Russian fifth column in Bulgaria attended the opening ceremony.

The first to speak was the Ambassador of Ukraine, Mrs. Olesia Ilashchuk, who expressed her sincere gratitude to the Bulgarian society that has been helping Ukrainians since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, providing them with shelter and support. According to her, the OKO festival also found itself under the temporary protection of Bulgaria.

In addition, Mrs. Olesya noted that on October 1, Ukraine celebrates the Day of Defenders. Together with the audience, she honored the memory of those who died in the struggle for freedom, for the opportunity to live today, for the opportunity to be Ukrainians, and the desire to be Europeans with a minute of silence.

"In the context of Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine and the entire democratic world, facts are the main tool of counteraction. That is why contemporary documentary and ethnographic cinema is so important. The OKO Festival has become this artistic front with no borders or territorial boundaries but a mission to expose evil and revive faith in good deeds and justice. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire team of the OKO Film Festival and all Bulgarian volunteers and donors for their personal contribution to this great collective project," added the Ambassador.

We also received warm words of support from Mrs. Rayna Mandzhukova, Mr. Petar Todorov, and Mrs. Zhanna Suslina, who sent greetings from the festival's homeland, the city of Bolhrad. Mrs. Olena Kotseva and Mr. Manol Peikov, known for their active support of Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria and residents of Ukraine, also expressed their greetings.

Our program director, Olena Rubashevska, is also a refugee. Russian military aggression forced her to flee twice: first in 2014 from her hometown of Donetsk and again in 2022 from her new home in Bucha. After which, she evacuated to Poland, where she lives today.

In her speech, Olena noted that OKO has brought together special people from all over Ukraine and the world.

"The films are united by the concept 'Heroes Among Us'. It was challenging to create the program for this year's edition. I don't promise you simple emotions, but you will definitely feel the therapeutic effect of watching," she said.

The founder and director of the OKO Film Festival, Tetiana Staneva, began her speech by explaining the concept and the motivation behind the festival: "Heroics became the theme of our unity because they are the ones who fight evil and fight for the truth. "OKO is a tool for conveying the truth, and the truth gives freedom. This project aims to unite Ukraine and Bulgaria. In four years, we have come a long and thorny way. Still, we have not backed down and keep showing documentary stories about the life, lifestyle, customs, and rituals of different peoples and ethnic groups worldwide. In addition, we tell firsthand and through screenings of Ukrainian films about Ukraine and the history of the cruel war that Russia has been waging against us for nine years. While we are sitting in this hall, there is a bombing in Ukraine. In a few days, my team and I will return there again, and it may be the last time we see you. So I have one request for you: help Ukraine to win because I don't need my life without my Ukraine."

Tetiana also thanked the conscious Bulgarian people for helping and Bulgaria for becoming the second home of our film festival this year. She expressed her hope for further long-term cooperation.

After the emotional speeches, Myroslava Salii took the stage and performed her song "Forgive Me for not Forgiving." After that, the screening of the opening film Life to the Limit (directed by Pavlo Peleshok) began. Eva Kyorova, a Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" student, translated the film as part of her semester-long study under the supervision of Dr. Rayna Kamberova.

People left the screening hall in tears and stopped at the exhibition of photos by Ukrainian photographers Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov, Serhii Mykhalchuk and Oleksandr Baron, who capture the realities of the war, exploring the most painful topics and often risking their lives.

In parallel, we were holding a fair where everyone could buy our film festival merch, clothes of the Ukrainian brand Pravda Label, souvenirs with symbols in memory of Ukraine, and handmade products created by wives of military men.

We also held an auction where we sold an OKO film festival award in the form of a brick with the inscription "Heroes among us"; three photos from the exhibition of Serhii Mykhalchuk (as part of the "Culture vs. War" project), and Oleksandr Baron; machine gun shells and a rocket-propelled grenade tube painted by artists from Bolhrad; 2 dry rations for the Armed Forces of Ukraine; a certificate for ten trips over the ferry crossing "Orlivka - Isakcha" during the year; a flag signed by the Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov and two flags from the 88th Separate Marine Battalion, one of which was signed by soldiers from the front line. As a result of the auction, we raised 6870 leva, which we will donate to the 88th Separate Marine Battalion upon returning home. It consists mainly of ethnic Bulgarians and is based in Bolhrad (Odesa region), the birthplace of our film festival.

OKO brought a piece of Ukraine with it, which was represented by TM Kolonist, Bolgrad, and Villa Tinta wines, as well as meat delicacies from "Balkanski Yastia" and cheeses from "Shchedra Okolytsia."

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