Think back to when you were a teenager. What sort of job did you have when you were 15? If you had a job it was probably something part time and menial. Flipping burgers at a fast food joint or bagging groceries or stocking shelves. The documentary from Marianna Kaat entitled Auk Nr. 8 (English: Pit No. 8) follows Yura, a 15 year old Ukrainian boy, and his two siblings as they try to make ends meet. Having left home due to their alcoholic mother, Yura is the breadwinner for his family. He simultaneously goes to school and mines coal from old, abandoned mines that are now illegal. I bet that minimum wage job you had is now looking pretty good.
Auk Nr. 8 is fascinating and involving for two reasons. The first is the story of a family trying to survive. Yura cares for his younger sister Julia by buying her warm clothes, toys and checking her homework. At one point, when he calls her teacher to check her assignments, the teacher is heard telling him that he needs to discipline her more. He clearly has more responsibility than the average 15 year old. It doesn’t take long watching Yura and listening to him speak that he’s 15 going on 45; he’s wise beyond his years and very educated on mining and business. But he’s still a teenager and it’s a lot of pressure on him. And unfortunately it’s too much pressure as he attempts to balance his own schoolwork with the mining and just can’t seem to make it work. The film also follows the love/hate struggle with Yura’s older sister who moves out on her own.
The other intriguing part of the story is the coal mining. It seems everywhere you look in this town there is an abandoned hole in the ground. But the danger is almost indescribable. Assuming that they can get through the mine shaft and into the actual mine, Yura and his friend Dima are seen with small picks working by hand to chip off pieces of coal. They’re unable to stand upright or even kneel without being hunched over. The entire time they discuss the likelihood that the mine they’re in could collapse or is flooded out. But when the coal processing plants start closing up, it means that their own source of income is drying up.
The conclusion to Pit No. 8 was disheartening. Yura decides to join the military and Julia is placed in an orphanage. The once close family are separated. But Pit No. 8 isn’t a documentary you’ll soon forget.