Southern Brooklyn

Ukrainian Filmmaker Debuts A Documentary Tinged With Ukraine’s Ugly Truths


Family Portrait in Black and White” premiered at Sundance Film Festival, Hot Docs, Valladolid, MiradasDoc and Addis Ababa Film Festivals. The documentary dissects the life of a foster mother in Ukraine who is raising 17 orphans single-handedly.

Olga Nenya is a strong believer in communal responsibility over individual freedom. She lives in rural Ukraine, and unlike her neighbors, she  feels no racial prejudice against the 16 biracial orphans she raises.

These orphans were abandoned by their Ukrainian mothers. The children’s fathers are African students who came to Ukraine to study. They eventually return home, deserting the children they’ve fathered. The mothers, influenced by the cultural norms of their society, don’t want the children either.

Olga refuses to allow these children to grow up in institutions and has collected them all under one roof of her home. The film captures three turbulent years that see her brood of foster children grow into rambunctious teenagers.

The film has screened at film festivals all over the world.

Director Julia Ivanova is an accomplished documentary filmmaker whose film “True Love or Marriage Fraud? Price of Heartache” contributed to recent changes to the spousal sponsorship regulations in Canada. She also made “10 Days=Wife: Love Translated,” a look at the international dating industry that follows fifteen Western men on a tour to find wives in Odessa, Ukraine. Currently Julia is working on a documentary “High Five: an Adoption Saga”, a film about a typical couple that adopts five brothers and sisters in Ukraine. It will be released later this year.

“Family Portrait in Black and White” screens at AMC Empire at 234 West 42nd Street, Manhattan on July 13 through July 19.

Comment policy


  1. It’s fascinating stuff, isn’t it? Large parts of what we think of as the first world, untouched by general progress of perceptions in the West, have socially racist (and other “ism’s” of hate) attitudes at the forefront. In the U.S., we’ve come as far as society by-and-large accepting that racism is wrong, even if many harbor those feelings quietly. That is actually tremendous progress considering the history of this country and the human race. 

    But in places like Eastern Europe, there is still very little sense of wrongness about racist attitudes, despite those heady days of Soviet internationalism (which then gave new meaning to the old drink concoction a “Black Russian”). And that attitude of across-the-board-hate- recently on display at the Euro Cup – has carried over here in some stark ways:

    -Witness the comments from anonymous commenters on sites like here, where there is clearly an Eastern Euro background to the commenter(s). The one I recall the most was the article on that Medicaid fraud bust and the commenter(s) tried to distract from the story by going after black people as a whole, and clearly – and honestly – thought it was acceptable for Russians to commit crimes for which another group should be punished because that group was not Russian.

    -Not racism, but homophobia is alive and well with many of these people too. And in an interesting, Stalinistic way too – denial. I personally know one Ukrainian and one Pole – each of the nicest people I have met, sweet dispositions, believers in charity, etc etc – who not only strongly dislike gays, they claim they are no gays at all in their native land. Gays are a creation of the West. Incredible (how I stopped myself from making Polish jokes that day I don’t know).

    -And then I met a gentleman, born in the old USSR, a white Russian mother and a Nigerian father. You’d think from the bond his parents made (and I believe they stayed together unlike many of these couples) he learned ideas of equality and love and such. Guess what? The man was a raging anti-semite and a raging misogynist. It’s all he could talk about. Very sad.

  2. No doubt that 
    raising 17 orphans is heroic thing to do. No questions asked, no matter if they white , black , or in the middle.

    But, it pains me to see old sheepshead hand making such touchy comments on the subject he clearly does not know. At first I though I’ll write an essay as a response but I changed my mind and decided not to dignify this obvious stereotypical post with a response.

    Only one thing I will say is that, if it was not for our current police government that we have here in the city , every ethnicity would be at each other throats by now. So.. Thank you police. Like Black people say.. there are whites, there are blacks and there are cops.

    I completely disagree with your post old sheepshead

  3. Maybe I’m missing something in OSH’s post, but for the most part I do agree. My only point of contention is probably, though, the U.S. isn’t as open as we’d like to think. I mean in the cities we are, but there’s still of large number of ignorants living in the Midwest, and etc. Hell even just upstate NY. Just because we’re more tolerant in NYC, doesn’t apply to the rest of the states, though as the internet, and travel, creates more global exposure these prejuidices, intolerances and such can be addressed should a mind be open enough. Still society’s always going to be looking for a scapegoat, before accepting their own faults, and it’ll always come back to the easiest thing to target, which in humanity, has often been one’s appearance, then religion.

  4. Yes, United States is far from being a “post-racial” society:

    That does not invalidate OSH’s point about Eastern Europe.  I know: I was born there, I lived there for 20 years and I have to talk to my relatives (both here and there) from time to time.

    U.S. Department of State – Ukraine Country Specific Information – Crime

    “While most travelers do not encounter problems with crime in Ukraine, there have been hate crimes directed at ethnic and religious minorities, and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Many of these incidents are perpetrated by “skinheads” or neo-Nazis and have been reported throughout the country. In Kyiv, these incidents have occurred without provocation in prominent downtown areas commonly frequented by tourists. The majority of people targeted have been of Asian, African, or other non-European descent. Racial minorities may also be subject to various types of harassment, such as being stopped on the street by both civilians and law enforcement officials. Individuals belonging to religious minorities have been harassed and assaulted in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine the police and government’s slow response to hate crimes is a serious and continuing concern. Although senior Government of Ukraine officials have publicly deplored these hate crimes and groups behind them, Ukrainian street-level law enforcement officials are either unwilling or are unable to deter hate crimes effectively. The U.S. Embassy has received numerous credible reports from victims of violent hate crimes stating that uniformed police officers observed the assaults and did nothing to prevent the attacks, to assist the victims afterward, or to investigate and apprehend the attackers. The Government of Ukraine has established special law enforcement units to prevent and investigate hate crimes; despite these efforts, problems with this type of crime continue to exist.”

  5. Interesting. I began to read your remarks as coming from the Right, but it turns out you were coming from the Left…I think…

    Well I neglected to mention one last thing about the Ukrainian gentleman, maybe the most important part of my whole damn anecdotal story that upset you so much.

    He left the country. He went back to the Ukraine. He was so upset that Obama won, that he left. Also he couldn’t find off-the-books work anymore in this economy (a real American see, trying to avoid taxes). But as he put it to me in his broken English (that he refused to learn better), “Black No Normal. America No Black. Obama Black. America No Normal.” I swear to you this is not made up. He also had incredible OCD and showered after every meal. So take that for what you will. In this day and age, open racism in America can be easily identified in people with diagnosed mental illnesses. So maybe that’s true of the peoples of the world I condemned with a broad brush. So maybe then, instead of trying to identify a cultural and historical acceptance of hatred in this group, I’ll just do what grandmother used to do: “Ach, they’re all crazy!”. There, that’s better.

  6. I only said cities, because it’s hard for people not to interact with other ideas from religion, culture, and etc. due to the close proximity of everyone, compared to those in the countryside and other less-densely populated areas.

  7. I just watched the film on my TIVO, on a PBS station, and I was so taken, I googled Julia Ivanova, and was brought to this website, and since I was a Sheepshead Bay child, how wonderful!

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