English translation of wrenching testimony of a French film-maker about Ukrainian Government attacks on Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Donbass - a situation denied by ABC Australia and by US-NATO. Video-address by film-maker, Anne-Laure Bonnel, to audience at Russia House of Science and Culture in Paris. (Translation by Sheila Newman). (Originally published on 5 March 22, but lost for technical reasons. Republished 7 March 22.)
ANNE-LAURE BONNEL: I believe that film documentary can be a tool for peace and a bridge to communication between people.
In December 2014, I came upon astonishing film of President Poreshenko on Rada TV (Ukrainian parliamentary television), in a harangue where he shouted that eastern Ukranians would remain in cellars, that the children [there] would no longer attend school, and that the oldest people would no longer get their pensions, and that this was the way he would win the war.
I was very astonished to discover this violence in the mouth of a president, especially because I was a woman from France, where people have the habit of demanding and defending human rights. Those images made me want to know more about what was going on in Donbass in the east of Ukraine.
There was very little information in France about what was happening [in Donbass]. Gradually, through my inquries and research in France, I found out about the Odessa Massacre, where pro-Russian civilians were burned alive in a union building. I found out about atrocities against pro-Russians. I found out about extremely radical battalions, such as Asov, [ ?indeciperable], and they are numerous – and I was astonished that very few media film that part of Eastern Ukraine, which, to my mind, had been the victim of great violence – inordinate violence.
And when you make films – documentary films – you always have a secret hope that they could be an instrument for peace, a bridge of communication between humans – at any rate, a strong testimony – and therefore I went to Donbass.
It was difficult and the film is the testimony/witnessing of a part of the population which was forgotten, from which no western media had collected the words. It is the tale of civilians, of grandmothers, of old people, who were victims of bombings by their own government. They lived in cellars for long months. They were bombed by civil aviation. They were unable to collect their pension. There were no more hospitals. The hospitals had been bombed. The infrastructure, the bridges, had been bombed. And thus I came to a no-mans-land where the people who had stayed survived however they could, in extremely cold temperatures, which was very difficult because there was no more electricity for most of them and no more medication, very little food etc. And those months were very difficult for the population, and itw as during that period that I went to Donbass several times.
I went alone with my camera. A team that I met in France – a person who accompanied me – a Ukrainian from the west, from Tcherkassy, to be precise – and we criss-crossed Donbass and Luganz – it’s a region, - for several weeks, over three trips.
We interviewed all those present who could speak and each one was suffering greatly and did not understand why Ukraine was bombing them. Me, I considered it a civil war. What I saw was a people who were hit by Ukrainians …. And many of them said to me, “We don’t understand. Our own brothers are at war with each other.ˮ And that was a very difficult feeling to live with for the people I was able to meet.
That Maidan Revolution was similarly pretty poorly reported in the media. Many of its aspects were not clearly defined. I have spoken at length on this subject in various places, but you should know that the Russian-speaking and pro-Russian population of Ukraine felt they were in great danger in Ukraine, even before the events in Donbass, notably through the burning and massacre of 48 people in the union building in Odessa, through the banning of the Russian language, which was rapidly reviewed and put back on the table, but from the start one should not forget that Russian-speakers felt themselves totally in danger with a presence of radical movements which would be absolutely unacceptable in France. It consists of people, those battalions, like Azov, etc., that one could not even imagine in France. They would be seen as beyond the pale, with processions – many images [of this] have been circulated – with processions reminiscent of Nazism. They are perhaps not extremely numerous – that’s what we are repeatedly told – but they are present and they are violent and they are murderous.
So, I agree that they are not a majority in Ukraine. On the other hand, they exist. And the atrocities that they have committed also exist and have not been judged and I am thinking especially of Odessa, and that [Odessa] is unacceptable. For France, that such a massacre has not been reported in the press and even worse, that no-one has been found guilty. In terms of upholding human rights, it is frankly terrifying.
So, it’s very simple to accuse Russia of being responsible for what happened in Donbass, but if you don’t understand what happened during the Maidan Revolution, and if you don’t take into account the money that the United States has injected into Ukraine, the presence of the CIA, which has never hidden itself,… Everything I am saying here, and have said several times, is verifyable via very reliable open internet sources. If you don’t understand all that, then you cannot understand what has happened in Donbass.
Ukraine has been largely [financially] supported by outside interests, by external influences, - notably Soros - but not just those, The political class has been destabilised and [financially] supported – I won’t say names, but that’s the situation – by outside influences. So, it’s a movement that has made Russian-speakers and pro-Russians very ill at ease. Even more so the eastern population, which is on the Russian border, many who were born there, and who feel Russian and speak Russian. And when you have, in the same country, such anti-Russian violence – because it existed – I wasn’t able to put that in the film, but I found pictures of television programs shown on prime time on much-watched Ukrainian television channels where people were called upon to kill the Donetz population, speaking in radical terms as in that those populations are useless to Ukraine and that they are dogs that should be exterminated. I saw these [examples] myself, but I haven’t put them in the film because people might have taken me for… because it’s so unbelievable that – well, I’ve already experienced difficulty showing this film, so, if I had added those picture, I think I would have had even more difficulties, to bring to life and show this film. But that’s the situation. It all actually exists. And it has not been sufficiently spoken of nor denounced.
There has been anti-Russian propaganda which has manifested concretely in unheard of acts of violence, with calls to murder, with atrocities, with a clear, assumed, and televised, anti-Russian hatred. So in France people have found it hard to talk about that. I think that it is beginning very slowly to see the light of day. I think that people are beginning to realise that the situation was complex, that it involves a civil war, that Maidan is not as clear as people said, and that the revolution was not as democratic as described. I mean, it is enough to look at the financing behind it, linked to different groups, which formed - to the side – since there were, of course, good people in the revolution. There are always good people in the revolution, but behind the scenes, in the corridors, on the side, there were people possessed by extraordinary violence – who had fired on their own population. I am referring to Odessa. You need to have the courage to look at pictures of Odessa. The are unbearable. The pictures are on the internet and I invite everyone to have a look at them. You see people jumping out of windows in a building on fire and other people murdering them with guns.
There you understand the hatred that can exist in the breast of one people and the anti-Russian feeling has not been overestimated. Seeing Odessa, you understand, that, no, Russians have not been paranoid. There has been no exaggeration. There has been a will to eradicate the populations of the East.
If you don’t look more deeply, you will only read of a good side and the bad side, and reality doesn’t work like that. If you want to understand an event, if you want to have quality information, don’t take everything at face value, already, and look at the maximum of points of view. Look at … oh, that’s the work of journalists, but there are very few who actually do their work, look at the point of view of each participant of these revolutions, or combats. Stand back, and you will see that we have been looking at – perhaps we are still looking at - a barbaric Russia-phobia.
I am very sad that we have not succeeded in getting some perspective on this conflict, this civil war in Donbass. That Europeans have not looked more carefully at the issues at stake that have played out at Maidan – because today it is the civilian population that has suffered the costs hard. The film illustrates that. People are in a no man’s land and many people have suffered, many people have lost everything, and [we should have been] careful before unilaterally accusing Russia, we should have reasoned complexely, and not to put biased views about events linked to Maidan and which followed on from Maidan. I am speaking as a journalist. It is our ethical duty. To make a film is to tell a story, to have the courage to tell a the facts that happened. No-one is black, no-one is white. Obviously, every person makes mistakes, but in any case the American position and the NATO position have been extremely aggressive in … and bear part of the responsibility in what has happened and is still happening in Donbass.
So, I hope - I’m not deluding myself - but if these, this film, could permit another reading, so that at least we stop talking about war in Donbass but of civil war, because that’s what it’s about, even if that is inconvenient. Nonetheless, it’s the Ukranian government that bombed its own population, a population which felt very much attacked. Once again, I invite each one of your to find those Ukrainian prime time television shows. Prime time, that is from 6pm to 10pm. That’s when there are the most ratings and where there are calls to eradicate more than a million Ukrainians. You can fact-check. You can look at it from every direction. It’s a fact. It has been said. I’ve recorded it. It’s in my computer. Look at Odessa. This is all visible. I do not understand why there is such silence and a lack of perspective about the responsibility of this one and that one in those events.
I hope, equally, that the film will suffice, through its testimonies, to show that there is a population that has not understood what has happened to it. It’s as if, tomorrow, France bombarded its Brittany population. I think that the Bretons would be very surprised. It is that kind of surprise that I met in the eyes of the inhabitants of Donetzk and Luganszk. Even more staggering – in a war you are the target of an enemy – but when the enemy is on your own soil and the enemy is your own brother or you neighbour from a few kilometers away, it is difficult for a civilian to comprehend.
The film is very difficult. The film is very violent. It interviews individuals who don’t understand why the whole world hasn’t focused a camera on them. At the time of my first trip, the Charlie Hebdo attacks were happening, and I remember an old woman in a cellar asking me why, when 14 people had died in France, every camera in the world was focused on France and why they, who were bombed and starving without pensions etc, daily, no-one was interested. It was very touching and, finally, she is right. There is no hierarchy in suffering, nor in horror. But Donbass was forgotten by western cameras. So those were the things that motivated me to tell [the story in] this film : to show and give a voice to that forgotten population. And I have therefore the feeling of having been a witness to a covert civil war. So, Ukrainians have been bombed by their own government. It’s still hard to accept for many people but that’s what has happened. I would also add that, for those who don’t know, I have had a lot of problems making it understood in France, but you have to imagine that when you arrive in Donbass, the banks are closed; there are no shops; the hospitals are bombed. I visited – this I did not put in the film – hospitals for young handicapped people, who no longer got their medications, and who were dying. There were no more diapers ; there was an unbearable smell ; the children were in rooms where the laundry could not longer be done because of the difficulty in travelling. During a war, you can’t move about. And these children are certainly dead. So, there you have it… a slow death.
You have to really understand what has happened in Donbass. It’s a little territory that found itself under fire, which has been totally isolated. Entire fields were mined, The population had to take refuge in the cellars, without water, without electricity; the telephone connections were cut, one by one, and you had to survive in that situation.
So, that’s the story the film tells. It’s the Donbass war and, at the same time, it’s a sort of universal film, about everything that civilian populations can experience under bombardment, When they are far from the camera, this is what happens. I mean, that’s what it means to live in a war zone. You will see many ruins, many wounded, testimonies that are very very hard to listen to, which dismayed me. I would have liked for the film to have had wider impact.
To close, I will pay tribute to the person who died whilst accompany me during this filming. I won’t say his name, but I thank him and his family for having helped me. I remember that day I had insisted very much on going into the zone where he died. For a long time I felt guilty because I wanted absolutely to film Pervomaisk, because it is a town that has suffered a lot. It was a few meters from the front line, at 400meters, and perhaps if I had not insisted, we would not have gone on that day. So the film is also a tribute to AA for his courage. Without his presence and without the presence of volunteers and people who met with me, who trusted me, this testimony would never have seen the light. I know that A has children. I know that his wife is still alive. I don’t know if you will see the film, but please know that he was admirable. And finally I dedicate this film to him and to the whole population of Donbass. There you have it. Thank you.