Night Swallows (Ночные ласточки) is a Russian-language military drama mini-series, directed by Mikhail Kabanov and produced by Star Media.
Based on true story, Night Swallows is about the all-female aviation unit formed by Stalin in 1941. The unit, which became known as the “Night Swallows” in the USSR and often referred to as “Night Witches” by the Nazis, together flew tens of thousands of bombing missions against the German military. Twenty-three personnel were each awarded the title “Hero of the Soviet Union.”
The series was originally released on January 28, 2013 and ended with 8 episodes.
All episodes are available for free with English subtitles on YouTube.
The series begins with two Russian bombers, piloted by females, flying over a German camp and targeting fuel storehouses. One plane is shot down during the fight, killing two officers. Meanwhile, an interrogation is happening in one of the buildings at the camp. The interrogating officer condemns the Soviet Union for letting women fight and demands Krechet, a German accused of working for the Russians, give names of his accomplices.
Meanwhile, senior lieutenant Eugenia Zvonaryova, played by Tatyana Arntgolts, together with her navigator, drops a smoke bomb to cover themselves, fly to the building where the interrogation is, and destroy it, protecting the other spies.
Back at base, Eugenia (also known as Zhenya) learns that she will receive a medal for the mission. She rejoins her colleagues, and they drink to their fallen friends.
Zhenya then meets a mechanic named Galina (Galya) Shevchenko, played by Elizaveta Nilova. Galya is a former pilot and Zhenya says the medal should be hers, as she flew more flights. Galya refuses to take credit and says that she will not fly again. A flashback shows her, her mother and son at a train station. In the present, she gets emotional from the thoughts and leaves the scene.
When Zhenya and Galya meet again, Galya helps Zhenya work out the tactics for an upcoming mission. Zhenya presents this plan, which will involve a group of saboteurs marking ammunition wagons so that they can be targeted. The mission is completed successfully, after the saboteurs witness an incident where German soldiers stop a family, kill the man and harass a girl. Despite feeling guilty and angry, they cannot afford to do anything as they have a mission. At quarter past three at night, they arrive at the target site and successfully mark the wagons. At half past three, right on schedule, Zhenya and her navigator arrive and bomb the targets.
Zhenya comes back to the camp and is welcomed by Galya. They talk, and Galya again remembers flying – with Zhenya as her navigator. In the memory, they are mid-assignment when they fly over a field, with several dead refugee bodies from a recent German attack. Among the corpses are Galya’s mother and son. Enraged, she violates orders and tells Zhenya to bomb the truck of German soldiers which is just leaving the field. In another flashback, their return to the base is shown. The colonel is going to send them both to the tribunal, but Galya claims that she made Zhenya follow her order. Zhenya rejects this and informs the colonel about seeing Galya’s mother and son.
Zhenya gets promoted to a captain and convinces the colonel, who apparently had mercy on Galya before, to allow Galya to fly again. He agrees, but says she must be under Zhenya’s command.
Back at the camp, one of the officers, who is shown to dislike the female pilots throughout the entire episode, reports Galya’s order violation to higher authorities. The colonel can do nothing about this as a higher officer arrives to take her away. Zhenya is still on her way back to the camp and has no clue of the situation…
The series opens with a banner reading “Dedicated to the female pilots of the 46th Guards Female Regiment of Night Bombers.” Night Swallows continues from there to be tribute to these female war heroes.
Although highly effective as a tribute, a great number of users of kino.teatre.ru, a Russian media review website, a great number of users are unhappy about the inaccuracy of the dates of events, timeline, settings, etc. For example, one user commented “…the pilot, senior lieutenant is awarded the Order of Kutuzov, 3rd degree, which is impossible according to the regulations for that award…” In addition, many negatively critique the poor CGI and other battlefield special effects, along with the unrealistic reactions and movements of the soldiers. Lastly, many criticized the film as being inferior to a 1981 film called Night Witches in the Sky (В небе ночные ведьмы).
On the other hand, most of the positive feedback from kino.teatre.ru goes go to the cast. One user summarizes her impression of the series as, “…most importantly – the film educates, exalts, makes you remember about what happened…” On this Russian website however, the series overall receives a relatively poor 5.5/10.
On IMDb, which is more popular with English speakers, however, Night Swallows is doing much better. One user commented, “Interesting and enjoyable. War series are always difficult to portray in scale, technically, and in context; however, I appreciated the telling of the experiences and perspective of these unique pilots.” Overall, it receives a decent score on IMDb of 7.1/10.
Despite lackluster audience response, Night Swallows did receive a nomination for Best Fictional Television Program at the 9th International Winning Together Festival of Television and Radio Programs in 2013.