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The good news is Sahraa Karimi has made it out of Afghanistan.
The director of Hava, Maryam, Ayesha and the head of national cinema body Afghan Film was able to escape Kabul with her family late Tuesday night thanks to help from the Slovakian, Turkish and Ukrainian governments. She is now safe and sound in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
“The president of Ukraine, the Turkish embassy, and the Slovak Film and Television Academy together all helped get us out. We are extremely thankful to them,” Karimi tells The Hollywood Reporter, speaking via WhatsApp from Kyiv. “I’m fine now and am just trying to forget what has happened.”
What happened was a harrowing escape from the Afghani capital ahead of the Taliban, whose forces seized Kabul on Sunday, taking effective control of the entire country. Karimi says she was at a bank trying to take out money when the news came that the Taliban had begun their attack.
“The gunshots had started. The manager of the bank told me the Taliban had surrounded Kabul and were coming into the city,” Karimi recalls. “He took me out the back door into the street. I wanted to catch a taxi but there was no taxi. So I ran.”
Karimi documented her flight live on Instagram, running through the city and calling to others to flee as well. When she reached her home, some 3 miles away, she called the Slovak Film and Television Academy. Karimi studied directing in Slovakia and is an academy member.
“I called Wanda Hrycova, the president of the Slovak Film and Television Academy, and told her my situation. She told me there is a flight to Ukraine and that she had spoken with the office of the Ukrainian president and that they would help me and my family get out.”
But it wasn’t easy.
“When we got to the airport, it was chaos. We missed the first flight,” Karimi says. “We went to the U.S. Army airport but they didn’t let us board. It was awful, they turned us back.”
Karimi and her family — she said there were some 12 people in total, including her brother and nieces “aged 2, 7, 11, 14 and 20,” as well as two of her assistants from Afghan Film — returned to the original civilian airport and spoke to the officials who had first helped her.
“The Turkish embassy said they had received approval from Ukraine to fly us through,” she says.
Hours later, Karimi and her family boarded a Turkish flight to Ukraine by way of Istanbul.
“Now we are working here with Ukraine to get out 36 other Afghan filmmakers and their families, we are working to arrange visas and flights,” Karimi says.
“Ukraine is proud to have airlifted Sahraa out of Kabul and given her refuge in Kyiv,” says Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, who was personally involved in the operation. “But there are many other Sahraas remaining in Afghanistan, and we must help them before it’s too late.”
Karimi is calling on the international film community “not to stay silent” about the plight of filmmakers and artists in Afghanistan and to do everything they can to help those still in the country to get out. She fears the Taliban, now that they have control of the country, will take revenge on local artists, particularly female artists.
“The Taliban are anti-art, anti-cinema and anti-woman. If you combine that as a female director, you can see they are anti-everything toward women filmmakers,” she says, warning that if the international community does not act, “it will be a genocide of filmmakers and artists. Right now, we have the calm before the storm, but the Taliban have not changed. Ideologically, they live in the Stone Age.”
Karimi dismisses claims by the Taliban that they “want peace” and will not take revenge on artists or others who oppose their strict Islamic rule.
“We are already hearing a lot of stories about women being beaten, about girls being taken out of school,” she says. “Even if they don’t actually kill you, they won’t let you work, they won’t let you make art, express yourself. Killing isn’t just a bullet to the head.”
Karimi remains defiant. She notes that she has “not resigned” as head of state cinema body Afghan Film and will continue to raise her voice against the Taliban regime. As a successful and internationally recognized filmmaker — her drama Hava, Maryam, Ayesha screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2019 — Karimi says she can continue to make movies in Europe and elsewhere.
“But I went back to Afghanistan to tell the stories of my country and my people and to change the narrative of Afghanistan, and that is what I want to continue doing,” she says. “If the Taliban don’t let us work, it means we can’t tell our stories. But I will try to find a way.”
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