The story focuses on a young boy, Yuri, living in the beautiful Ukraine. He is raised on the beliefs that no one should be able to take his spirit. His dad ends up leaving the home for sometime to join the resistance against Stalin.
The Czar is killed, which brings a few years of independence to Ukraine, which is soon crushed by Russia. Despite this, Yuri grows as a young man to be expressive and a romantic. He focuses on a woman, Natalka, or at least attempts to. Unfortunately she slaps him when he asks if he can paint her.
Soon they come together and he admits his love for her. She continues to defer him, saying that he cannot ever understand what it is like being with someone whose parents are not married. Eventually she kisses him and then goes to a Ukrainian ceremony where she asks if she will ever be married. The flower sinks, answering her question and destroying her hope for love. Natalka is afraid of only bringing misfortune to Yuri.
The Bolsheviks come and Yuri’s dad orders him to raise the alarm. Yuri’s father is killed in attempt to defend the people in his village. Stalin’s people kill and hang him, where Yuri finds him. A funeral is held and you see the community gather to show their condolences.
Following his death, they continue with the wedding, but her mother is trampled and ruins the affairs.
Stalin becomes a stronger presence among the Ukrainian people, claiming no one will notice when they begin to starve. They claim they have not stolen the harvest, but that it has died. The people say they do not have horses to work, because they had to eat them, so they provide tractors. The Russians claim that the modern mechanics are means enough. Yuri is approached by a general and handed papers, telling him the land is no longer his but the States.
It is then that his mother encourages him to leave and be the artist he has always dreamt of being. His wife, Natalka, stays behind to tend to her mother. He is devastated. On the train, taking him away he meets and English man who tells him of his western beliefs. He explains how the Russians enforce the “NO famine, just a food shortage.” policy and how it is all a lie. Yuri watches him be killed on sight when getting off the train. It goes to show how violently people can be treated. In the train station, Yuri passes multiple dead bodies, laying there, dead from starvation.
Once in Kiev, he goes to see his childhood friend, Mykola and tells him about the horrors. He is a leader of the Ukranian Communist Party.
The scene cuts back to Ukraine, where you see the starving peasants, hoping for grain. Natalka has a narrative, writing Yuri letters, explaining how more and more people starve and how her mother passed. Her only good news in the letter explains how she is with his child.
Yuri wants her to come to Kiev, as he has been accepted into an academy of art. He is told his painting is too perfect, too fanciful, and seek the real truth. Yuri is taught to express himself not through realism, but surrealism.
Mykola has been sucked into believing Stalins way of thinking, because he thinks it is proper, but also still stands by his Ukrainian origins. Yuri begins to become repressed at the academy, told he cannot use his expression and is forced to work a menial job. He promises he will not fail. Mykola kills himself when he finally realizes that Stalin is not on his side. Yuri attacks soldiers in response and is thrown in jail. He is about to be killed, but then taken away by someone higher in command and placed in an even smaller cell. He begins to reflect on Natlka, his subconscious, the light, and the moon before beginning a beautiful portrait of Natalka on the wall. The guard sees his works and orders that Yuri paint him. He requests his paints, brushes, and to write one last letter to his wife.
Natalka makes the main general trip in Ukraine by poisoning him. She starts an entire revolt against the Russians in the town until a wife is killed and the gunfire stops. The man is forced to join the collective in exchange for the burial of his wife. The commissioner promises Natalka’s family freedom if she brings him the image of St. Yuri. She struggles with this decision.
Yuri has escaped and is eating. Children then approach him and ask to eat. He meets a grandson of his Grandfathers friend and joins to fight the soviet union in an ambush. He basically ruins the entire thing by going to soon but blows something up. He survives and he and this little kid, Lubko. Lubko keeps him from killing a soviet soldier.
YURI COMES BACK FOR NATALKA AND THE LITTLE BOY COMES WITH HIM AND SHE’S SO HAPPY.
Lubko becomes their child because she lost the other one and he’s really happy because he didn’t have parents.
Yuri’s mom is in the process of dying and is extremely sick. He says hello to her and wakes her up to feed her some. Natalka admits to traded the symbol for safety, but the commissioner still has his grandfather held as prisoner. It ended up that she traded one of his paintings instead of the real. He shows his mother, says that God has not forsaken her, and dies. Then he is like “I’M GOING TO GET MY GRANDFATHER” and Natalka gives him his fathers old saber. He helps all of the prisoners escape and his grandfather asks for forgiveness. Then Yuri fucking like knocks some guy away from the machine gun and the grandfather is in the prison room with the bad commissioner guy and then someone runs a truck into that building and everything explodes and they both die. And then Yuri is standing there like ……shit. And then starts crying.
It cuts to Natalka, Lubko, and Yuri all escape onto a train. Except the train is going to Poland. But they jump of the train but then guards and dogs start running after them and it’s only the three of them and this is so intense oh my god. NATALKA FUCKING TRIPS MAN. Yuri tries to carry her but she wont let him. The picture basically saves him from being shot and they jump in the water and start swimming under there. Then it cuts back to them as little kids and summarizes the Holodomor in a few sentences.