Georgians and Ukrainians Search For Justice

Film event brings both communities together to discuss how to support lasting peace.

IWPR brought together Ukrainian and Georgian filmmakers and conflict resolution specialists for a documentary screening and discussion in Tblisi on the plight of female former prisoners-of-war.

The Ukrainian documentary trilogy Unbroken tells the story of three women who were held captive in Eastern Ukraine by paramilitary groups. The December 6 event allowed the war-affected communities of both countries to share experiences and find ways to deal with the grave consequences of conflict.

Irina Dovgan, the protagonist of one of the documentary episodes, was imprisoned for five days and tortured by pro-Russian fighters.

“The war has once entered my life and never left me ever since,” she told the event.

“The people who tortured and wanted to kill me said, ‘You have committed so many crimes, you can’t live.’ I would have never believed that it could happen in Donetsk, in a once modern and wealthy city, where people lived happily. I was a happy resident of this city too and I experienced torture in this happy city,” she said, adding how the people around her “literally went crazy”.

Dovgan went on to identify the people who tortured her on the Ukrainian website Myrotvorets (Peacekeeper), but continues to fear for her safety and that of her family.

Thousands of people may have been taken captive by separatist militia since 2014, including about 100 Ukrainian women. Ukrainian human rights groups claim that the government has failed these people and are campaigning for new legislation to provide them with social and economic support.

“Formally, the prisoners of war do not exist in Ukraine,” film-maker Olha Volynska said.

“So far, 227 people are held captive in the occupied territories of Donbass. More than 100 are imprisoned in the territory of Crimea and Russia.”

Former prisoners-of-war are supported by Ukrainian human rights organisations, who provide a one-off financial subsidy, temporary housing and medical and legal assistance.

“However, human rights organisations cannot deal with the issue alone, the government involvement is critical,” said Dmitry Reva from SICH, an NGO providing legal assistance to former prisoners.

According to Reva, about 500 claims have already filed to the International Court of Human Rights.

However, many people cannot face going down this route, he continued, adding, “Many former prisoners refuse to communicate with human rights defenders because they want to get rid of this stress and the associated pain as quickly as they can.”

Communities in both countries still struggle to identify the root causes of the conflict amid both internal and external propaganda.

“There is an obvious deficit of pluralism of opinion,” said Aleksander Rusetsky, the director of the South Caucasus Institute of Regional Security. “Societies that are damaged by the conflict have no luxury to think in diverse colors and everything is viewed in black and white. These are complex, multi-faceted conflicts.”

Journalists and filmmakers highlighted the important role the media played in uncovering wartime human rights violations and fake news.

Natalia Antelava is the founder of Coda Story and when the conflict began in 2014 produced a number of groundbreaking reports for the BBC exposing disinformation in the Russian media about Ukraine.

“Ukraine became a litmus test for the international media, because it was the first crisis truly saturated with lies and disinformation from all sides,” she said. “High working standards and excessive political correctness did not allow western journalists to identify the dose of propaganda and disinformation during the war in Ukraine.

“Of course, propaganda and fake news have always been a part of any conflict, but in the era of information overload, where every opinion has its platform, disinformation has reached a whole new level,” Antelava concluded.

Georgian filmmaker Ana Dziapshipa said that such documentaries played a vital role in peacebuilding.

“Documentary film is a source of reflection,” she said. “When we speak about how we can improve things, a very important instrument for finding those ways for improvement is a reflection, talking about things, including through documentary films.”