This is one in an occasional series of dispatches about life amid the war in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Alice Biletska knew that it would be challenging to film in Ukraine, where one is always under the threat of missile or drone strikes, but when she was deciding how to tell the story of a Ukrainian singer torn between her career in the United States and her family in a war-torn country, she and her co-producer saw little choice.
“There was never any question of where we would film,” Ms. Biletska said. “You have the soul of the people here. It’s very hard to fake that. Our Ukrainian crew all have their personal experiences of this war, and have gone through all of this, and everyone has a story.”
Ms. Bileska’s film, “Our House Is on Fire,” is wrapping up this week in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, after a two-month shoot under the specter of Russian airstrikes that has been an extremely personal journey for everyone involved.
Filmed entirely in Ukraine, and mainly in the Kyiv region, the movie follows a young Ukrainian singer named Sofia — played by Anastasiya Pustovit — who is trying to make it in Los Angeles when she returns to Kyiv for her brother’s wedding.
While she’s home, the war breaks out, and she is forced to make an hard choice between career and home and love. The film was co-written and directed by Ms. Biletska, who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and the story is loosely based on her own experience of leaving her country and trying to make it in Hollywood. Her co-writer and producer is an American, Brian Perkins.
In one scene, Sofia is seen fleeing in a car on the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, traveling through the forest near Hostomel, a Kyiv suburb where some of the heaviest fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces occurred in the early days of the war. The word “children” is seen taped to the car, and despite this, Russian soldiers open fire on the vehicle, injuring a passenger.
In another scene eerily realistic in its depiction of the panic at train stations across Ukraine at the time, a crush of people shout and push to board a train in Kyiv as one lone soldier tries to control the crowd.
Ms. Biletska, who studied at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and who spent weeks volunteering and helping with evacuations in the first few weeks of the war, said she asked herself what more could be done.
“I’ve always dreamed of making a film about Ukraine because I’m eternally in love with this country and the people, and home,” she said. “When you’re an immigrant, you really re-evaluate and understand what home is. And when this war happened, it was also another way of coping with the horrible feeling of uselessness: What can one person do when the entire country is facing evil? Well, I can tell a story,” she said.
“We wanted to make this film now,” Ms. Biletska continued, “even while the war is still going on, because it’s really subjective. It’s a love story; it’s a story about home; it’s about all those choices we make — whether you leave or stay.”
Mr. Perkins recalled one instance in particular when the filming hit especially close to home for someone on the set.
“We shot one scene in the Kyiv Metro, and one of the extras had actually spent time sheltering in that exact Metro station with her kids,” he said.
Kyiv remained relatively calm until the last week of filming, when air raid sirens rang out over the capital. On one night, a Ukrainian drone lost control and was shot down by an air defense system, sending its parts flying down close to where the film’s crew was. The next night, at least 30 drones targeted Kyiv.
For many in the film and theater industry in Ukraine, this is their first production since the war began. Viktor Shava, the film’s location manager, said he juggled his time between working on the set and being a part of an air defense unit that shoots down drones.
The filmmakers won’t have to wait long to share their work with the world. A preview of a scene from “Our House” is scheduled to be shown this month at the Cannes Film Festival, where the creators will be discussing the filmmaking process.