When Russia Comes | Fear and Loyalty in a Ukrainian town | DW | 2023

The town of Kupyansk was one of the first places in Ukraine to fall to Russian invaders. Six months later it was recaptured by Ukraine. Left in the ruins of the town, residents are now grappling with questions of guilt and complicity.

No shots were fired when the Russian army occupied Kupyansk. The mayor of the town of 30,000 simply handed it over to advancing Russian troops. But not all citizens were happy with the collaboration. One brave local politician drummed up resistance and organized protests under the Ukrainian flag. Russia launched a violent crackdown on the rebellion. Anyone daring to speak out against the Russian troops’ presence risked being ‘disappeared’ in the occupiers’ torture chambers. Open resistance was swiftly quashed, driving the movement underground. Meanwhile Russia began implementing its own plans for the town, which became an administrative center for the occupied territories around Kharkiv. The occupation authorities handed out Russian passports and turned Kupyansk into a showcase town for “Russkij Mir” – which can be translated as “Russian world” or “Russian peace”.

Six months later, Ukraine recaptured Kupyansk. Russian troops stationed 10 kilometers from the center exacted revenge by launching almost daily artillery attacks on the town. Many residents fled. But for those who stayed, the question remains: how to carry on after the experiences of the occupation?

This film reconstructs the mechanisms of the occupation with those who lived through it: those who were at some point able to flee, and those who stayed. The documentary hears from residents who collaborated as well as those who resisted, whether openly or in secret. It illustrates a panorama of life under occupation and poses the big questions of guilt and complicity.

Breaking out of Mariupol | Mykhailo’s journey through war | DW | 2022

He is a hero to all those he pulled out of besieged Mariupol – he simply could not do otherwise, as he says himself. Mychailo Puryshev was in Kiev at the beginning of the war, but the club with which he had earned his living till then – his pride and joy – is in Mariupol. A place to party, dance, forget everyday life – with more than a dozen staff and their families. Mychailo wanted to at least save these people from the Russian shelling – and set off in a red minibus that he bought especially for this purpose. Across the front lines, past checkpoints, he repeatedly came under fire – and still kept going. He has driven from Kiev to Mariupol and back a total of six times in recent weeks, each time bringing food and medicine into the besieged city and taking people out and bringing them to Kiev. He has seen the unimaginable. Until now, he had not known how you could love a country. Now, he says, he knows – and wants to continue fighting for a free Ukraine. He has already planned the next trip. A film by Mathias Bölinger.


Growing cannabis under police surveillance | DW | 2020

Marijuana is illegal in China. But since cannabidiol or CBD is widely used as a lifestyle, cosmetic and medicinal product worldwide, certain companies are permitted to grow cannabis under strict police surveillance—and it’s a very lucrative business.

The Dissident’s Wife | Li Wenzu takes on the Chinese State | DW | 2020

In 2015, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang vanished without a trace. His wife Li Wenzu assumed he’d been detained but had no certainty for several months. She would not let herself be intimidated and went public with the case.

Li Wenzu quickly realized her husband wasn’t the only one. Dozens of attorneys had disappeared the same day along with many activists. It had been a genuine mass arrest. But the authorities had obviously not anticipated her response. She wrote articles and posted them on the internet, contacted supporters and politicians abroad and set the machinery of all the official channels in motion. She was paid one visit after another by the state security, who threatened and tried to intimidate her. But how was she to explain the situation to their son? Mathias Bölinger accompanied Li Wenzu through part of this difficult time.



The film has been awarded a Merit at the Human Rights Press Awards 2021.

Coronavirus: How hospitals in China’s Wuhan kept the sick away | DW | 2020

China’s Hubei province has decided to change the diagnosis criteria for coronavirus, bringing relief to infected residents. One woman felt the effects of the authorities’ penchant to keep the number of infected down.

It took Zhang Hongwen nine days and three swab samples to get her mother hospitalized. Nine days spent in waiting rooms amid a crowd of coughing patients and their relatives. Up to 60 people were crammed into a waiting room the size of a classroom.

“Everybody was using the same toilet. I thought about how easy it was to get infected,” she said. “I felt helpless and terrified but I had no choice. Once my mother had gotten ill, I had to take care of her.”

Zhang (not her real name) is living in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. DW spoke to her on the phone. Her mother, a woman in her late seventies, came down with fever and cough at the end of January, a few days after a Chinese New Year’s Eve spent with relatives.

“There were young people and children around, maybe she caught it there,” Zhang said. Continue reading


Coronavirus: A dramatic escape from Wuhan’s lockdown | DW | 2020

The spread of the coronavirus in China is forcing many to lock themselves in at home. Those who traveled to the Wuhan area and managed to get out before the city was shut down are under close surveillance.

Ten days ago, Claire locked herself in at home after a dramatic escape from Wuhan. She had traveled to the city, where the coronavirus originated, to spend Chinese New Year with her in-laws. Then, the news broke that Wuhan would be locked down. Claire and her boyfriend escaped just minutes before it happened.

Since then they have quarantined themselves at home. “In the beginning, it was our own decision to stay in,” she told DW via videochat. But later the party state weighed in. “We started getting phone calls from the neighborhood committee and the local police station urging us to stay in.” They have to measure and report their temperature to the authorities every day. Claire is a pseudonym to protect her family and she didn’t want to reveal the name of her hometown.

China has been both criticized and praised for its response to the crisis. When the first cases of the disease broke out in December local authorities covered it up. Doctors who reported mysterious cases of pneumonia in chat groups were summoned by the police and threatened with punishment. Continue reading


China’s first Fridays for Future sees teen planting trees | DW | 2019

Howey Ou did not see any Chinese students in the Fridays for Future movement, so she became China’s first climate striker. She realized this was not an easy thing to do after the police took her from her first protest.

Howey Ou strode across the flower market of her home city of Guilin on a hazy October afternoon. But she had no consideration for the rhododendrons, anemones and bougainvilleas the shopkeepers had lined up along the market aisles. She was headed to a small stand at the very end of the market where she picked six scrawny osmanthus seedlings.

The osmanthus flower is praised in China for its scent, it is brewed into a fragrant tea or added as a flavor to rice wine. Poets have sung its praise. But these aren’t the characteristics that interest Howey. A professor had explained to her that the osmanthus is effective in absorbing carbon dioxide. Howey is China’s first climate striker and has not been to school for four months. But several times a week she buys seedlings and plants them in the surrounding area. “Protesting needs a lot of courage in China,” she said, “But planting trees is something we can do.” Continue reading



For a Free Future | Young Hong Kongers Rise Up | DW | 2019

After months of demonstrations, Hong Kong’s protest movement has grown to the point where almost a quarter of the population has flooded the streets. At the outbreak of the upheaval, DW met up with17-year-old Zack Ho, who was in the middle of his final exams. But Hong Kong’s future is so important to him that he was spending most of his time on the street.

Zack, a high school student, is one of hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers taking to the streets to protest against a proposed extradition bill. It’s highly controversial because it would increase Beijing’s influence in the Special Administrative Region. Anyone who caused trouble here could be extradited to mainland China. Compared to the rest of China, Hong Kong has greater political autonomy and its residents enjoy more freedoms. And Zack Ho says things should stay that way. While the Hong Kong government has now put the extradition bill on hold and its leader, Carrie Lam, has even issued a public apology, the demonstrators still aren’t satisfied. They’re demanding that Lam resign and the extradition bill be withdrawn entirely. A report by Mathias Bölinger and Phoebe Kong.




We met Zack again half a year later. Here’s what has changed for him in in these 6 months that have transformed Hong Kong:

China’s mass internment of Muslims | DW | 2018

The UN accuses China of detaining a million Uighurs, Kazakhs and people from other Muslim minorities in the region of Xinjiang. Most have not been accused of anything let alone sentenced. Detainees are forced to learn Mandarin and sing songs praising the Communist Party. Those who fail to subject themselves to political and cultural indoctrination are punished. Mathias Bölinger accompanied Khairat Samarkhan, a former Kazakh detainee trying to build up a life for himself who is also trying to get others out.

Child trafficking in China | A mother is searching for her son | DW | 2018

Tan Jingjing from China is convinced her son was sold to traffickers by her ex-husband. She’s been searching for him for three years; by now he would be five. She hasn’t received any help from the authorities. But there is a glimmer of hope.

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