Afghan film director recounts escape from Kabul

KYIV (REUTERS) – Sahraa Karimi had been waiting in line for nearly three hours to withdraw money from a bank in Kabul on Sunday when the bank manager came over and urged her to leave, with the sound of gunfire echoing in the distance.

Karimi, an Afghan filmmaker and the first woman to head the state-run Afghan Film Organisation, decided on the spot to get herself, her brothers and nieces out of Afghanistan, even though she knew there was chaos at Kabul’s airport.

At a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, she told Reuters about her escape, which she said was done with the help of the Turkish and Ukrainian governments.

“I took my family. I leave my house, I leave my car, I leave my money, I leave everything that I have,” she said.

The 36-year-old has sounded the alarm about the return of Taleban rule, saying it would throttle the film industry and the rights of women.

“They don’t support art, they don’t value culture and they will never support these kinds of things,” Karimi said.

“And they are afraid of educated, independent women,” she said, adding that the Taleban wanted women to be “hidden, invisible”.

The Taleban says it will respect women’s rights within the framework of Islamic law; a senior Taleban leader has said their role would be decided by a council of Islamic scholars.

After leaving the bank and unable to find a taxi home, Karimi began to run through the streets. The director, whose film Hava, Maryam, Ayesha featured at the Venice film festival in 2019, filmed herself as she ran, in a video posted on Instagram with more than 1.3 million views.

A post shared by Sahraa Karimi صحرا كريمي (@sahraakarimi)

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Karimi and her family were due to leave on a flight that was evacuating Ukrainian citizens, she said, but as thousands of Afghans poured into the airport hoping to escape, access to her flight was cut off and it left without them.

“The moment when we missed the first airplane was the most sad moment in my life because I thought: ‘Okay, we cannot go anymore, we stay’,” she said, adding that she had been worried the Taleban would target her family rather than her.

She wanted her nieces to live in a country where “they give you freedom, you have your education. As a human being you should have a value but under Taleban rules, okay, you live, but a miserable life.”

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Images circulated on social media this week of Afghans rushing towards a US military plane and clinging to its side.

“A lot of people just came to airport and they just, you know, they (were) just … like hugging (the) airplane, just to take them. They were so hopeless,” Karimi said.

Having missed the first plane, Karimi got back in touch with the officials helping her. She was told to move away from the crowd and hours later, officials whom she did not identify then took her family to another part of the airport, from where she and her family boarded a Turkish flight to Ukraine.

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