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‘A Lugansk chainsaw massacre’ Pro-Kremlin channel to premiere Prigozhin-backed film about Donbas war

Source: Meduza

According to Meduza’s sources, Russian oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin has bankrolled another made-for-TV movie about mercenaries from the Wagner group. The film is scheduled to premiere on August 18, on the pro-Kremlin channel NTV — the same television network that released a Prigozhin-backed action movie about Russian fighters in the Central African Republic earlier this year. Titled “Solntsepyok” (“Blazing Sun”), this new flick is set in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and allegedly “based on real events.” Publications linked to Prigozhin were the first to announce the film’s release. One source who worked on another movie sponsored by Prigozhin described this latest project as an attempt to put forward a “romanticized propaganda version” of the mercenary group and thereby launder Wagner’s image.

Just months after releasing the action flick “Tourist,” the pro-Kremlin television channel NTV is set to premiere another movie based on the exploits of mercenaries from the notorious private military company (PMC) Wagner. And just like Wagner, this new film is allegedly linked to Russian catering mogul Evgeny Prigozhin. 

The film, titled ‘Solntsepyok” (“Blazing Sun”), is scheduled to premiere on August 18. Two sources familiar with Prigozhin’s ventures in the movie industry told Meduza that this is the fifth film the Kremlin-linked oligarch has bankrolled. The trailer, which says the movie is “based on real events,” was released on YouTube in late July. The cast includes actor Vladimir Ilyin, who was awarded the country’s highest title for performing arts, People's Artist of Russia, in 1999. 

Солнцепёк

Sources familiar with the project told Meduza that “Solntsepyok” was created by the people behind “Tourist” — a made-for-TV action movie about Russian fighters in the Central African Republic (CAR). This new film is set in Luhansk (Lugansk), eastern Ukraine, in the summer of 2014 — the same year Wagner mercenaries first appeared, fighting alongside Russian-backed separatists in a war that’s still going on today.

“[NTV] will release an epic movie, made by Evgeny Viktorovich [Prigozhin]. I watched it and got so excited, because it’s such concentrated craziness. A Lugansk chainsaw massacre,” said a Meduza source who used to work for Prigozhin’s structures. “The same people [who made the movie Tourist] made a film about Lugansk at Prigozhin’s request. It’s also a film about the Wagner PMC — it looks like they decided to de-anonymize themselves, to present a romanticized propaganda version of themselves to the public,” another source who was involved in the production of another Prigozhin-backed film told Meduza. As in other films, the mercenaries are presented as undeniably positive heroes — despite the fact that Wagner fighters stand accused of war crimes, including torture and brutal murders. Prigozhin has consistently denied having any connection to the mercenary group.

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All of Prigozhin’s movie projects were made extremely quickly, the source from the movie industry noted. But filming for the action movies about the Russian mercenaries have their own specifications. “In ‘Tourist’ they were filming real Wagner PMC bases [in the CAR],” says Meduza’s source who worked on another one of Prigozhin’s films. “Salaries were increased, but the organization was terrible: the group was poorly fed, three people came down with malaria while filming. At the same time, the film crew was banned from photographing the PMC guys — this was very strict. One man’s phone was reformatted after he accidentally filmed one of the fighters. They were involved in the security, escorting [the film crew].” 

The events of the film “Solntsepyok” take place in the unrecognized “Luhansk People’s Republic,” but the source from the Russian movie industry told Meduza that filming actually took place in Yevpatoria, a city on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula. As was the case with other Prigozhin-backed films, it’s release was first announced in publications linked to the tycoon — such as RIA FAN, which belongs to the “Patriot” media group. In 2019, Prigozhin officially headed the conglomerate’s board of trustees (although beforehand, he denied any connection to the media group’s publications, despite journalistic investigations linking him to these websites). 

The “Solntsepyok” premiere was also announced on the pro-government St. Petersburg news channel “Sankt Peterburg.” Media manager Alexander Malkevich was appointed the television channel’s editor-in-chief in January 2021. Malkevich previously headed an English-language website called USA Really, which mimicked the design of RIA FAN. The U.S. Treasury Department imposed personal sanctions on Malkevich in 2018, for attempting to interfere in the U.S. elections.

“Evgeny Viktorovich has no information [about] whether he financed the filming of ‘Solntsepyok’,” Prigozhin’s press service said in response to Meduza’s inquiry. “It is known that at a private screening, producer Sergey Shcheglov thanked a ‘patron’ [zakazchik] for the idea, constant participation, and sponsorship of this picture. We don’t know whether this referred to Evgeny Viktorovich.”

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Story by Liliya Yapparova

Translation by Eilish Hart

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