In August of 2014, I met a remarkable member of the LPR forces, in Lugansk. But he was much more than just a soldier. Denis Somov (call-sign Aramis), 34, was a parachutist, a furniture-maker turned frontline fighter, who had decided to try to capture every moment of war in much the same way as he’d done with his parachute jumps, moments with his family.
Everything was interesting to Aramis, he wanted to film everything, capture every moment. I’d actually never met anyone like him, he gave me the idea for a series of videos called ‘Meet the People’s Militia‘ – now numbering dozens, he was the first, and the idea came to me after spending the day with him in early September 2014, as he’d volunteered to help out with the distribution of the first Russian humanitarian aid to reach the Lugansk area. Aramis was simply such an interesting character, so friendly, intelligent, energetic, I felt he had to be filmed.
In early February of 2015, I was covering action leading to the liberation of Debaltsevo by LPR / DPR forces. One day at positions I saw some of Aramis’ unit, and immediately asked how he was (there was no phone signal in the time I was in Lugansk, so we’d been unable to stay in touch), to be told Aramis was fine, well, and I’d see him in coming days as the advance to Debaltsevo marched on. That never happened. Instead, Aramis’ brother Oleg approached me in mid-February as I waited on the peripheries of the embattled town, to tell me Aramis had been killed.
The news came as a shock, a real blow. From early on, I wanted to do something to remember Aramis, a video tribute. Over time, that project grew into a fully-fledged film, for a number of reasons. I spent time with Aramis’ family, his parents, wife, brother, two daughters, and recorded fascinating interviews with them. Then, his brother showed me the vast archive of video material Aramis had recorded, named, sorted into folder by date.
I watched Aramis’ material with incredulity – there it all was, every moment caught. Every behind the scenes minutiae of life as a militia member, even frontline fighting filmed, and at a seismic time – Lugansk encircled by Ukrainian forces in summer of 2014, then the breaking out to take new territory around Lugansk. Watching Aramis’ video, which included clips he’d made of myself, and at times my filming him, it came to me that this was something truly unique.
It spurred me on to film interviews with Aramis’ fellow fighters – those he’d filmed himself – and their moving individual stories, weaving into footage of them in action. I revisited scenes I’d been with Aramis, scenes in his videos. And, of course, his final resting place, where I said my farewells to a man who’d made a vivid and lasting impression on me. I went to the place Aramis was killed, gunned down in open conflict on February 11th, 2015.
Aramis was a man who left behind a great deal – truly unique video material. And in those who knew him, lasting memories, and the story almost one year on, of the effect of the death of such a remarkable individual. How parents go on without a son, daughters without a father, wife without a husband.
Aramis was a truly talented individual, talent shared by his brother, Oleg, who it transpired is a master of video production, something he is lending to this film.
Aramis – Donbass Musketeer is the story of a remarkable man. It’s also the story of many men, and women. Men and women at peace, then war, then after war as they try to rebuild lives when war has waned but left the tough, in cases devastating, loss of a loved one with it.
I’ll be pleased to present English subtitles on the film, which will be premiered in St Petersburg, and Moscow, in March of 2016, before a full release on YouTube.