In a rare video contest, Ukrainians of all ages tackle human rights in the middle of war
06 February 2024
This was not Andriy’s first video, but he knew little about human rights.
"I saw a contest, and I thought that we have this situation in Ukraine, and why not show Ukrainians in this situation? Every person has a right to life," says the 11-year-old from Chernivtsi in Western Ukraine. Andriy, who dreams of becoming a video game developer in the future, was among the five winners of a video contest organized earlier this year by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
“The video contest aimed to encourage film makers to show how the UDHR can advance its promise of freedom, equality and justice for all,” says Danielle Bell who heads the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
Bell‘s previous experience in war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated how short films could be a powerful tool for digital storytelling. “The videos were powerful, conveying the intense emotions of people affected by the trauma and devastation of war, which profoundly impacts human rights,” she explains.
The UN contest drew 51 participants of all ages from all over Ukraine. Participants included a colorful mix of primary schoolers, university students, lecturers and activists. The three main contest winners were chosen by a public vote on the UN Monitoring Mission’s Instagram page. Two more prizes were awarded by a panel of UN staff. The winners came from Mykolaiv, Rivne, Chernivtsi and Khmelnytskiy regions of Ukraine.
Ruslana, a teacher at a media school for children in Rivne, says her students themselves decided on how best to approach the context. “It was really the kid’s idea,” she says, “they brainstormed on how to show human rights, they themselves came up with a script that focused on visiting places that they could no longer visit because of the war, and they also acted in it,” she says. The idea for the theme of the prize-winning video came from 13-year-old Vlad whose family had to flee the southern city of Kherson at the beginning of the war.
Oleksandr, a police school cadet and astudent in Kamianets Podilskiy in south-western Ukraine, says he and his classmates, who produced another prize-winning video, decided to focus on human rights violations and war crimes committed since Russia invaded Ukraine 22 months ago. He argues that the filming as such was not very challenging, but the editing process was. “Still, these are positive emotions that everyone warmly remembers,” he says, despite the video’s grim topic.
Roman, a university lecturer and practicing journalist from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, notes that the topic chosen by his students—overwork—is currently relevant for many Ukrainians. With over three years of experience working for a local TV channel, Roman has extensive experience in creating videos. He reflects, “I've had many projects, but none like this one. The collaborative process of group scriptwriting, direction, and filming ignited a desire in me and provided motivation for my students.” He adds that they are planning to create videos on human rights issues. “Students need it for professional growth, and the country needs it to increase awareness of its citizens' rights,” Roman added.
“The topics highlighted in the videos address a wide range of human rights issues, such as the right to life, personal dignity, access to education, and more. Amid the suffering caused by this war, we hope that these narratives contribute to creating a more compassionate and informed global community,” says Bell noted.
The short video produced by Ruslan,a law student at the Chernivtsi National University, one of Ukraine’s oldest schools, tackles loss during the war. “Reflecting on the past and present, peacetime and wartime is a painful topic for most Ukrainians, including children whose parents are now fighting in the East and losing their lives,” he says. “The moment your father has not returned is really painful,” says Ruslan. “It hasn’t happened to me, but I hear such stories all the time.” He explains that making a video for the contest was an inspiring and eye-opening experience. He says he now wants to set up an NGO to protect the human rights of servicepersons.
Ruslana, the teacher from Rivne, says Ukraine’s soldiers serving on the frontline are also on her young students’ minds. She recalls that recently her students produced a video with a digital wish list for Santa Claus. They asked Santa to bring the fighters back safely, but in the meantime to make sure they had hot tea.
UN entities involved in this initiative
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights