Social documentary film-makers and activists ask why this EU aspiring nation is blind to the visually impaired on the streets and rivers of Ukraine

by Andy Kozlov @KozlovAndy

Aleksey Shott and Nastya Berg contributed to this story

Donald Kaberuka @DonaldKaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, began his recent speech at the Center for Global Development,  by quoting American business magnate, politician, and philanthropist Michael Rubens Bloomberg :

In God we trust, everyone else bring data

Embarking on a social documentary project, a creative team of social activists needs to always be reminded that if it can’t be measured it cannot be done. Ukraine’s film-makers Sergey Volkov, Maxim Rudenko and expereinced social activists Julie Sachuk and Denis Petrov know their numbers well.

About 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. About 90 % of those affected live in developing countries. Preventable causes are as high as 80 % of the total global visual impairment burden.

Всматриваясь во тьму is a topical film. Armed conflict, European values, society in rapid transformation, human resilience. These are some of the burning — and relevant internationally — issues the Ukrainian producers (and their international partners like the Baltic to Black Sea Documentary Network) put into the same sentence with word “Ukraine”.

For some people, the acronym УТОС (the Ukrainian Association of the Blind) does not ring any bells. But for many on the contrary, these four letters mean a lot. Despite the fact that this organization caters to many Ukrainians, sometimes they catch themselves thinking that they live in a country of their own, an absolutely isolated country. In that imaginary country, their problems remain unnoticed and conveniently ignored, as if in the real-world Ukraine there is no visual impairment burden at all. At times, it looks like the rest of the “healthy” people in Ukraine became blind.

Launched in 1933, the UTOS network of socially-minded enterprises has seen little innovation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Short on government support in a turmoil that is Ukraine these days, uncompetitive production lines of polymed garden equipment and low-voltage electrical products find it difficult to survive.  Daily media reports of battleground losses in the east of the country make the problems faced by visually impaired people invisible to the mainstream media.

Denis Petrov, the protagonist of Всматриваясь во тьму, lost his sight when he was a child. He now helps a battle-damaged soldier to survive the obscurity of life in Ukraine.

Eye-opening facts about visual impairment (Data visualization by Orbis, an international NGO dedicated to saving sight worldwide)
Eye-opening facts about visual impairment (Data visualization by Orbis, an international NGO dedicated to saving sight worldwide)

Denis is a university graduate, fluent in foreign languages. He freelances online and gets good money for what he does. His new friend Dmitriy lost his sight defending Ukraine. Dmitriy now believes there is no life after tomorrow. He needs to learn a lot to continue living in a society that is blind to people like him.

What does future hold for Dmitry and Ukraine? — ask the creators of Всматриваясь во тьму

Film director Sergey Volkov and cinematographer Maxim Rudenko explain:

We have secured support from УкрКіноХроніка [a Kyiv-based state-run documentary film studio]. Their director Natalia Anatolievna Shevchukis personally enthusiastice about the project.

Amplified by insights from social practitioners like Julie Sachuk — who has experience of work for Amnesty International, — the team behind Всматриваясь во тьму is confident of being able to roll out a proper campaign, uphold the rights of the visually impaired in Ukraine, as the Eastern European country transforms into a nation of people which are not blind to their neighbours’ problems.

Andy Kozlov can be reached on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

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