Hatred (Wolyn) | Harrowing Polish drama disinters World War Two atrocities in western Ukraine

Hatred Michalina Labacz Wojciech Smarzowski
(Image credit: Ola Grochowska)

Hatred Michalina Labacz Wojciech Smarzowski

About love in inhuman times.

Little known in the West, the massacre of tens of thousands of ethnic Poles in the Volhnyia region of western Ukraine during World War Two constitutes the heart of Polish director Wojciech Smarzowski’s harrowing historical drama Hatred.

We watch events unfold largely through the eyes of young Polish woman Zosia (Michalina Labacz), a teenager in love with a Ukrainian boy when the film opens in pre-war 1939, but pushed into marriage with a much older widow. Over the coming four years, she endures heart-numbing ordeals and witnesses unspeakable atrocities as her village suffers horror after horror, at first inflicted from without, by successive invasions of Soviets and Germans (who round up and kill the local Jews), and then from within, when neighbour savagely turns on neighbour.

It’s a very tough watch, with the folk rituals and innocent horseplay at the inter-ethnic wedding that opens the story foreshadowing acts of savage cruelty later on. Given how emotive and raw the subject is, it’s remarkable how even-handed Smarzowski manages to be, and telling that even the most extreme moments - such as a Ukrainian Orthodox priest actively blessing the pitchforks and knives that will be used to slaughter his parishioners’ Polish Catholic neighbours – have their basis in fact.

Certificate 18. Runtime 125 mins. Director Wojciech Smarzowski

Hatred available on Digital from Kew Media Group.


Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.