Ukraine mixed-race wrestler tackles prejudice in run for parliament

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2019-07-17 14:55Z by Steven

Ukraine mixed-race wrestler tackles prejudice in run for parliament

France 24

Boyarka (Ukraine) (AFP)

Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots, is running to become the first mixed-race member of Ukraine's parliament
Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots, is running to become the first mixed-race member of Ukraine’s parliament AFP

Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots, is seeking to enter Ukraine’s parliament as the first mixed-race MP in a bid to overcome racist attitudes and support the country’s young new leader.

The Greco-Roman style wrestler, who won silver for Ukraine at the Rio Olympics, is standing for the party of the new Ukrainian president, comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky, in Sunday’s polls.

The 28-year-old is the son of a Ukrainian dressmaker and a Rwandan pilot killed in that country’s civil war in the 1990s. He grew up in a one-room flat in the capital Kiev.

“Volodymyr Zelensky invited me to join his party, we knew each other before,” Beleniuk told AFP in an interview as he campaigned in the small town of Boyarka just outside Kiev.

“It seems like he saw qualities in me that will help promote the development of Ukrainian sport,” said the athlete after holding a training session for children.

Describing himself as “100 percent Ukrainian”, Beleniuk said his election would prove “we’re really a country that’s modern and that treats all races, all ethnic groups the same.”…

Read the entire article here.

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“Family Portrait in Black and White” Arrives on DVD

Posted in Articles, Europe, New Media, Videos on 2012-11-30 03:34Z by Steven

“Family Portrait in Black and White” Arrives on DVD

Interfilm Productions

Julia Ivanova, Director

Family Portrait in Black and White – Award Winning Documentary on Super-Foster Mom and her 16 Bi-racial Children Arrives on DVD December 4, 2012

On the heels of National Adoption Month comes a documentary that explores the growing pains of the foster system in Ukraine, dissecting one foster mother Olga Nenya and her brood of 16 mixed race orphans. A martyr for the cause of abandoned children, this foster mother fights tooth and nail to keep her family together. Unfortunately, her overbearing control of the children’s freedom limits their future opportunities. This engaging film raises many questions about parenting and is available online at regular DVD retailers including Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Amazon or can be saved on Netflix.

Documentary Family Portrait in Black and White introduces headstrong Olga Nenya, a foster-mother to 16 Ukrainian-African orphans struggling in a small village in racially charged Ukraine. Despite hardships caused by their lack of money and the racist attitudes of their compatriots, these abandoned kids function as a family under Olga’s relentless dictatorial guidance. The film offers deep insight into a fraught community surrounding this one-of-a-kind clan and into the passions, hopes and hardships of a unique self-made family.

Read the entire press release here.

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Family Portrait in Black and White [Tanasse Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Social Work on 2012-10-17 16:52Z by Steven

Family Portrait in Black and White [Tanasse Review]

Educational Media Review Online

Distributed by Interfilm Productions Inc., 304-1515 West Hastings St., Vancouver, BC V6G 3G6, Canada; 604-638-8920
Produced by Boris Ivanov
Directed by Julia Ivanova
DVD, color, 85 min. and 52 min. versions
Sr. High-General Adult
Adoption, Adolescence, Children, Child Development, Parenting, Area Studies, European Studies, Ethnic Studies, Social Work, African Studies

Gisèle Tanasse, Operations Supervisor Moffitt Library
University of California, Berkeley

Family Portrait in Black and White presents an intimate look into the daily challenges facing Ukranian Olga Nenya, half Stalanist dictator, half motherly saint. Olga cares for her brood of 16 foster children, mostly children of mixed-race abandoned by their white mothers, with an iron hand in a very modest home without a toilet or running water. Ever the task master, the children’s free time is filled with various domestic and agricultural chores, tending the vegetable garden, feeding goats, cleaning house, cooking and doing schoolwork. We are also privy, though, to very tender moments, including Olga comforting and caressing her children, a sister happily sharing her modest bowl of berries with 11 of her siblings and Olga’s anger and fear of losing her children when a herd of government inspectors come, giving her a truly bizarre verbal lashing over the use of plastic plates. This home-life stands in stark contrast with the racist, xenophobic remarks we hear from locals and neighbors, who at best, feel a superior pity towards the children, but more typically would seem driven to intimidate and possibly cause them physical harm. Even Olga’s adopted children look down on African students they pass in the street, using racial epithets and making horrific comments that the students merely wish to seduce white Ukrainian women. It seems, however, that any pride or air of superiority that Olga instills in the children is less a commentary on the shortcomings of the fathers, and more of a reflection of the value that Olga places on her children as assets to their country—the Ukraine—cannot afford, according to Olga, to lose such jewels as her children…

Read the entire review here.

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Family Portrait in Black and White: A Talk With Julia Ivanova

Posted in Articles, Europe, Interviews, Media Archive, Social Work on 2012-10-17 01:21Z by Steven

Family Portrait in Black and White: A Talk With Julia Ivanova

The Huffington Post
The Blog

E. Nina Rothe, Global Culture Explorer

The upcoming documentary by Julia Ivanova, titled Family Portrait in Black and White features a Ukrainian foster mother, Olga, and her brood of 27 foster kids. Ranging in ages between grade schoolers and legal adults, Olga’s children are for the most part the beautifully unique result of relationships between African students—attending the affordable universities of the former Soviet country — and Ukrainian women. In a national environment that presently leans more on the side of intolerance and bigotry, where neo-Nazi demonstrations can be the found on any given day in Kiev, Olga should be called a heroine.

Yet the beauty of Ivanova’s insightful film lies in her cinematic portrayal of the woman behind the mother. Olga turns out to be a flawed, overbearing, opinionated result of the former Soviet regime, who loves by the rules and teaches by the book: her book. In other words, perfectly human.

I caught up with Ivanova about her touching film and she shared her insightful views on the film’s imperfect heroine, as well as the future of these biracial children in a world that is increasingly partial to what is standard and un-unique.

Your film tells the story of a woman who is human, not just a heroine. How did you become aware of this particular story?

This particular story was very dear to me because for a number of years I wanted to make a film about biracial citizens of Eastern Europe and especially children who were born in Eastern Europe and don’t have a second identity other than the identity of the nation they feel they belong to. But the society sees them as different, so I was looking for a story that would allow me to explore this topic in its whole complexity. I was filming in Moscow in 2004 when I saw an article in the local newspaper of this woman in Ukraine with photos. Immediately I thought it was an excellent, excellent story and I got in touch with her a year or two later and then came to meet her…

Read the entire interview here.

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Family Portrait in Black and White: Documentary by Julia Ivanova

Posted in Europe, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Work, Videos, Women on 2012-10-16 21:36Z by Steven

Family Portrait in Black and White: Documentary by Julia Ivanova

Interfilm Productions
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Institutional Use: Double DVD (includes 85 and 52 minute versions)
Private Use: 85 minute DVD

Julia Ivanova, Director

Olga Nenya has 27 children. Four of them, now adults, are her biological children; the other 23 are adopted or foster children. Of those 23, 16 are biracial.

She calls them “my chocolates,” and is raising them to be patriotic Ukrainians. Some residents of Sumy, Ukraine, consider Olga a saint, but many believe she is simply crazy. An inheritance from the Soviet era, a stigma persists here against interracial relationships, and against children born as the result of romantic encounters between Ukrainian girls and exchange students from Africa. For more than a decade, Olga has been picking up the black babies left in Ukrainian orphanages and raising them together so that they may support and protect one another.

The filmmakers interview Neo-Nazis in Ukraine reveals the real dangers for a dark-skinned individual in the street. These white supremacist youth joke about their evening raids and how police seem to let them do it. Prosecutors are not particularly determined to give strict sentences to racially motivated crimes, and young thugs can get away with probation for beating someone nearly to death.

Olga sends her foster children to stay with host families in France and Italy in the summers and over Christmas, where they are cared for by charitable families who have committed to helping disadvantaged Ukrainian youth since the Chernobyl disaster. Olga’s kids now speak different languages, and the older girls chat in fluent Italian with each other even while cooking a vat of borscht. But Olga doesn’t believe in international adoption and has refused to sign adoption papers from host families that wanted to adopt her kids.

“At least when the kids grow up, they’ll have a mother to blame for all the failures that will happen in their lives,” she says.


  • 32nd GENIE AWARDS (Canada) (aka Canadian Oscars) “NOMINEE: Best Feature Documentary”
  • 18th HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL (Canada) “Grand Prize: Best Canadian Film Award”
  • 56TH VALLADOLID INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Spain) “Cultural Diversity Award” and “Time of History Third Prize”
  • 6TH ADDIS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Ethiopia) “Jury Award – Best Documentary”


  • Sundance Film Festival (USA)
  • International Documentary Film Festival (Amsterdam)
  • Los Angeles Film Festival (USA)
  • Mumbai Film Festival (India)
  • Haifa International Film Festival (Israel)
  • Hamptons International Film Festival (USA)
  • Cleveland International Film Festival (USA)
  • Glasgow International Film Festival (UK)
  • Thessaloniki Film Festival (Greece)
  • Message To Man Documentary Festival (Russia)
  • Bergen International Film Festival (Norway)
  • Vancouver International Film Festival (Canada)
  • New Zealand International Film Festival
  • Seattle International Film Festival (USA)
  • One World Film Festival (Romania, Czechoslovakia)
  • Human Watch Film Festival (UK)
  • Watchdocs (Poland)

What are the areas of interest? The major areas of interest covered by the film include:

  • human rights
  • critical mixed-race studies
  • ideology
  • institutionalization
  • identity politics
  • transitional economy
  • international adoption
  • foster homes

Who can benefit from the film? Family Portrait in Black and White is valuable for anyone with research interest in the following:

  • African Studies
  • Slavic Studies
  • Child and Family Studies
  • Sociology
  • Women’s Studies
  • Film and Media Studies
  • Mixed-Race Studies

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Fostering Mixed-Race Children in Ukraine: ‘Family Portrait in Black and White’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive on 2012-07-15 16:11Z by Steven

Fostering Mixed-Race Children in Ukraine: ‘Family Portrait in Black and White’

The New York Times

Neil Genzlinger, Television Critic

Family Portrait in Black and White,” a documentary by Julia Ivanova, leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which is frustrating, but it gets high marks for honesty.

It would have been easy for this film, which is about a woman in Ukraine and the more than 20 adopted and foster children she has taken in, to be a hagiography, but instead it’s a portrait of an imperfect solution in a country that seems to have a lot that needs solving.

The woman’s name is Olga Nenya, and she has made it her particular mission to provide a home for mixed-race children who have been abandoned by their parents. That is a brave thing for her to do because such children are shunned by many in Ukraine, which has a virulent skinhead movement. We don’t learn much about Ms. Nenya, like why she got into this work or what financial resources she is drawing on to put food in all those hungry mouths…

Read the entire review here.

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World Premiere of “Family Portrait in Black and White” at 2011 Sundance Film Festival

Posted in Articles, Europe, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2010-12-04 19:56Z by Steven

World Premiere of “Family Portrait in Black and White” at 2011 Sundance Film Festival

Family Portrait in Black and White
Interfilm Productions, Inc.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Directed by: Julia Ivanova
Producted by Boris Ivanov

OLGA NENYA is a foster mother to SIXTEEN BLACK ORPHANS in Ukraine—where 99.9% of the population is white and where race DOES matter. Forced to constantly defend themselves from racist neighbors and skinheads, these children have to be on guard against the world that surrounds them.

No one is related by blood in this family, but everyone is connected by the color of their skin and by the woman who chose to be their foster mother. Olga is a loving mother but she is not Mother Teresa; she bears much more resemblance to a platoon leader. Some kids have learned to manipulate her, some obey, and only one constantly battles with her. Kiril, a 16-year-old boy nicknamed ‘Mr. President’ for his intelligence and effortless aristocracy, is the one who dares to openly argue with Olga—and pays dearly for it. The modern world is interconnected: not only did the British Charity buy the house for the family, but these kids from a tiny place in Ukraine have been spending summers with host families in France and Italy year after year. When European families offer to adopt the kids, Olga refuses despite being aware of what awaits a black Ukrainian beyond the protective shield of her family. For her, these children already have a family and, as she says, “The bird should only have one nest”. This film is a multi-dimensional portrait of one family, the country they live in, and the bigger world they are a part of.

For more information, click here.

Park City, Utah

PARK CITY, UT – Sundance Institute announced today the lineup of films selected to screen in the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. In addition to the four Competition Categories, the Festival presents films in six out-of-competition sections to be announced on December 2. The 2011 Sundance Film Festival runs January 20-30 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The complete list of films is available at

…World Cinema Documentary Competition

This year’s 12 films were selected from 796 international documentary submissions.

Family Portrait in Black and White / Canada (Director: Julia Ivanova) – In a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya, raises 16 black orphans amidst a population of Slavic blue-eyed blondes. Their stories expose the harsh realities of growing up as a bi-racial child in Eastern Europe. World Premiere

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