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RFE/RL Devastated By Tragedy Involving Film Crew In Belarus

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is devastated by the loss of two colleagues who died last night in a car crash in Belarus.

(l-r) Current Time sound engineer Maksim Gavrilenko, director Vladimir Mikhailovski, and documentary filmmaker Lyubov Zemtsova

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is devastated by the loss of two colleagues who died last night in a car crash in Belarus that critically injured a third, who were on their way home from a video shoot related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vladimir Mikhailovski, age 33, was a director and Maksim Gavrilenko, age 26, was the sound engineer for a film crew working for RFE/RL’s Current Time network in Belarus. Lyubov Zemtsova, age 28 and currently in intensive care in a hospital in Minsk, is a well-known Belarusian documentary filmmaker who led the crew.

“This is the worst possible news,” said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly. “These young filmmakers were brilliant, talented and inspiring people, and part of a new initiative we launched to bring the best stories from Belarus to audiences that know little or nothing about the country’s people. They imbued their work with a spirit of freshness and hope that we all felt. The loss of Vladimir and Maksim is devastating, and we mourn them with their families. Yesterday was Lyubov’s birthday. All of us at RFE/RL are hoping and praying that she will be able to recover.”

Kenan Aliyev, features editor for Current Time who commissioned the team, said, “These people — this project — were full of promise. They were brave, they were intelligent and creative, and so committed to this unique project for Belarus. We are absolutely devastated.”

The filmmakers were returning to Minsk, Belarus’s capital city, from a video shoot in the southeastern city of Homel, where they were gathering material for a program about the volunteers who are assisting medical workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Lyubov’s mother told Current Time that the team “was at the hospital, from 5:00 a.m., all day…They carried out an important mission and filmed it all.”

Belarus has downplayed the pandemic, even staging a parade as recently as May 9 that drew thousands of people to central Minsk to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II.

The shoot at the Homel hospital was planned for an episode for a new series, Unknown Belarus, produced by the Current Time network to focus on “human rights and human stories,” Aliyev said. The series was launched in February, and previous episodes reported on workers at the main market in Minsk, the state-run “allocation” program that dispatches university graduates to work around the country, and domestic violence.

Mikhailovski and Zemtsova had collaborated on previous projects. Zemtsova is a graduate of Warsaw’s Waida School Doc Pro, whose films have been screened at the Astra Film Festival, ArtDocFest, and Watch Docs Belarus.

Current Time is a 24/7 Russian-language digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. In addition to reporting uncensored news, it is the largest provider of independent, Russian-language films to its audiences. In the 12-month period ending in September 2019, Current Time videos were viewed more than 740 million times across digital platforms.