Shalom Ukraine (YouthBridge) is a Film Festival Winner

halom Ukraine (YouthBridge) directed by Olga Kotlytska, Sofija Pavlenko and Sofia Bondarenko is the winner of The Ron Kovic Peace Prizefor Youth & Community at the 19th MY HERO International Film Festival. 

Narrated by 15-year-old Maksym (Max) Demchenko from Ukraine, Shalom Ukraine is a film about Ukrainian teenage refugees, from different parts of Ukraine, who find themselves in Germany and, despite their problems and difficulties, find shared experiences and a shared love of the arts within the YouthBridge organization.


YouthBridge is an award-winning two-year leadership project for young people from Bavaria. The initiative was founded in New York in 2003 and arrived in Munich in 2017. Young people are brought together on a monthly basis to participate in multiple educational seminars that are led by speakers from different cities and countries. During these seminars, participants learn about important social issues such as democracy, communication, respect, and self-realization.

The project aims to encourage diversity, creativity, and collaboration and fight against hatred, antisemitism, discrimination, and radicalization all over Bavaria. Its participants represent various ethnic, cultural, and/or religious communities. They interact and mutually enrich each other through seminars, fireside chats, educational trips, and project work, and it prepares participants for their future roles as social, cultural, political, and economic leaders.

‘Project work’ is the second essential part of YouthBridge which allows young people to put their newly acquired knowledge into use in a variety of projects such as social, cultural and political projects. One of which is Shalom Ukraine, a project which began in March 2022 just two weeks after the outbreak of war. Within two weeks, the project had 25 participants, all of whom originated from Ukraine. Participants in the project learn a variety of skills/tools including social media and media. The idea for the film was born from two students interested in media and out of a desire to raise awareness about the ongoing war.

In ShalomUkraine, Max explains how he had suffered a tragic accident that left one of his legs 6.5 cm shorter than the other. Having always loved to dance, this was a depressing proposition, but he took courage and learned to work around his injury. When the war came, Maksyn moved to Germany with just his mother and found solace in the group YouthBridge, Munich, where he met other like-minded children and teens from the Ukraine who also enjoyed the arts. The film Shalom Ukraine portrays Maksyn’s journey and his bravery. It also highlights the devastation of many of the towns in Ukraine. In the film, we also meet other Ukrainian refugees: Myron, Khristina, Tymur, Mylana, Milena, Daria, Anhelina, all of whom have found support and a home within the YouthBridge community.

The film, originating as a YouthBridge/Shalom Ukraine project, was made specifically for the MY HERO festival by Olga Kotlytska, Sofija Pavlenko and Sofia Bondarenko who wanted to convey to Europeans the truth about Ukraine. 

MY HERO interviewed mother and daughter team, Olga Kotlytska and Sofija Pavlenko.

How did you learn about MY HERO? 

We initially heard about MY HERO from Eva Haller the President of Janusz Korczak Academy*, who had met MY HERO’s own Eva Haller (board member and sponsor of the Women Transforming Media Film Festival Prize) when organizing an exhibition in Venice in 2016. Eva encouraged us to submit to the festival and our film YouthBridge- My Hero – Sister Scholastica was a finalist in last year’s (2022) event.

*YouthBridge is a by-product of The European Janusz Korczak Academy, a Jewish foundation structured around the values of Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jewish educator, children’s author, and pedagogue.

Could you tell us about the making of the film?

We knew we wanted to enter the festival again and came up with the concept in August. We brainstormed various ideas and, knowing we had to limit the film to 8 minutes, we decided to focus on Max. Not only is he interesting, intelligent, talented, and unique, we knew he would interview well and we already had a lot of footage of him performing at various Shalom Ukraine events and concerts. Fortunately, we came up with the idea two days before Max was due to visit his father and brother who are still living in Ukraine so, we asked his mother, Natalia, to video the reunion. The rest of the footage came from what the other participants already had, and we used archived footage of our own. Sofia interviewed Max and his mother and then edited all of the footage together.

What in your opinion is the importance of the film?

The fact that it raises awareness about the war in Ukraine and that it is ongoing. We don’t want the world to forget about this war. We also wanted to show how the war has impacted a young person who has dreams and goals and how valuable it is for him to have a project and people who can help those dreams come true, despite the circumstances. We also wanted to pay tribute to Shalom Ukraine – a project that connects like-minded people who have shared experiences and that provides resources to help them deal with the trauma of war.

YouthBridge is all about dialogue, сombating all forms of discrimination, preventing radicalization and antisemitism. And, as the name of the project suggests, it’s not just about young people, but also about “bridges” – a symbol of how the participants of the project come from different communities and, through their participation in the project, engage in a dialogue with different cultures, religions, and ethnicities, therefore, building bridges.

We have found that the participants of Shalom Ukraine progress more quickly than other refugees because the project YouthBridge gives them the motivation and possibilities to integrate.

Do you have a mentor or a personal hero?

(Sofija) My hero is Janusz Korczak and specifically his values of Respect, Dialogue, Humanity, and Participation. These values are so important for young people, particularly participation which is not as common as the other values. I like that Korczak advocated that children should be respected and treated as equals. (See below)

How important is it to you to be a finalist and now winners at the MY HERO 19th International Film Festival?

Said Olga: ” It is a huge compliment to be a finalist this year and last. We are delighted to be able to share our story about Max and the Ukraine We threw a wonderful party to celebrate our victory. There were many tears – but unlike the tears that have been flowing since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, these were tears of joy and pride. As our main character Maxim said in the film, all the guys from the “Shalom, Ukraine” project are the real heroes. Each of them deserves to have a film made about them. So MY HERO festival will soon have plenty of films to choose the next winner from! ;)”

Said Sofiia Bondarenko: “When we were informed of our victory, we were filled with a feeling of pride and happiness that our work was appreciated, and we were able to convey the most important meaning inherent in our film. We still have a lot to tell this world, and we feel that this is just the beginning!”

Watch the film HERE.

EU competition

Eu Competition


YouthBridge is a project of the European Janusz Korczak Academy in which young people with diverse backgrounds, mother tongues and religions complete a two-year leadership program. With their newly acquired knowledge and skills, the young people implement their own social, media and cultural initiatives and build bridges across different communities. YouthBridge encourages diversity, creativity and cooperation in Munich and fights hate, discrimination and radicalization!