““Collaborates!” Ukraine at war facing its traitors", on Arte: the eternal fifth column of internal enemies

In a country at war, there are the atrocities of fighting on the front

““Collaborates!” Ukraine at war facing its traitors", on Arte: the eternal fifth column of internal enemies

In a country at war, there are the atrocities of fighting on the front. But there are also gray areas behind, slippery slopes where acts of betrayal, denunciations, settling of scores combine. Where the hated figure of the “collaborator”, to use the French term dating from the Occupation, appears.

For two years, from kyiv to Donbass, the fear of the saboteur, the traitor, has been a palpable reality on a daily basis. The attacked country does not escape this other battle, waged against internal enemies. As early as March 2022, just a few days after the Russian invasion, a law against collaboration, wanted by President Zelensky, was adopted – in some haste.

Are some of its articles in contradiction with international conventions? Too bad, time is running out and justice must happen. In the viewfinder are the informants, those who provided the Russians with information on Ukrainian troop movements, the women who slept with the enemy. Just like those who, in the occupied cities, remained in place at school, at town hall, in administrations. Would not wanting to abandon your students, for example, be a sign of betrayal? It’s up to justice to do its job.

Between the spirit of vengeance and the rule of law, the balance is difficult to find. Summary arrests, torture, abuses exist and the camera does not hide it. But in the face of international opinion, Ukraine makes it its duty to prove that it is indeed a state governed by the rule of law. It therefore ensures that the rights of the accused are, most of the time, respected.

Very strict monitoring

Renowned documentary filmmaker (Albert-Londres Prize in 2007), Gwenlaouen Le Gouil knows Ukraine well. In 2015, his Donbass: Journey to the Land of the Separatists did not go unnoticed. This time, he followed on the ground, close to the front line and the Russian border, agents of the Ukrainian intelligence and security service (SBU) on a “filtration” mission.

In addition to very strict monitoring of social networks and the content of mobile phones, these agents track down “collaborators” even in small villages. Throughout the meetings, between interrogations and poignant testimonies, portraits emerge that allow us to better understand the drama of a country at war. Is Galina, aged around forty and a resident of Boutcha, a traitor, as her neighbors claim, guilty of having slept with Russian soldiers? “Why did they tell these horrors about me?,” she asks. The Russians did nothing but rape me and eat me…”

Gwenlaouen Le Gouil multiplies the meetings. A judge at the Irpine court (“There is the law on one side, the reality of war on the other”), or this lawyer specializing in the defense of alleged “collaborators” and who describes the necessity of his work in a country where the desire for revenge is palpable. A mission which is not without danger for the lawyer, whose car has been bombed.

“Prosecuting collaborators also sends a message to those who are still living under Russian occupation. It’s telling them: “Look, we’re not giving up, Ukraine will take back its territories. And look, we have the means for justice to be done,” summarizes a political leader.