Still from the movie Mariupolis © Mantas Kvedaravičius 

Ukraine: The case of Mantas Kvedaravičius


Just a few weeks ago, the 24 February 2023 marked one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a day now full of significance for us in Europe but also internationally. The ongoing Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has not only upended an era of perceived geopolitical stability in Europe, but has also created a humanitarian crisis of devastating proportions.

Thus far, the war has produced a massive catalog of blatant violations of international law, which, in light of the clouded information landscape of militarized conflict, almost certainly carries beneath it a “dark number” of undocumented abuses that is even larger. Beyond the international crime of aggression committed by the Russian regime in invading Ukraine, along with the direct torture and killing of Ukrainian civilians, accounts of systematic sexual and gender-based violence continue to proliferate. Jointly with partners from Ukraine, ECCHR is currently involved in several cases, as well as open-source investigations, concerning international crimes committed in the war.

However, in this supporter newsletter, we want to focus on one particular case – the killing of Lithuanian filmmaker and social anthropologist Mantas Kvedaravičius in the siege of Mariupol in spring 2022.


Mantas Kvedaravičius spent years researching and telling the stories of life in post-Soviet conflict zones, primarily in Chechnya and Ukraine, often placing himself in harm’s way to show the world the reality of war beyond death tolls and images of bloodshed, poetically capturing how people carry on with their lives despite and in light of the violence that surrounds them. With his film Mariupolis, he had already documented life in conflict-ridden Mariupol after it had come under attack by pro-Russian separatists in 2014. The film won Best Documentary at the Lithuanian Film Awards, while receiving commendations also at the Berlin, Hong Kong and Stockholm film festivals. The filmmaker also directed Barzakh, a documentary on Russia's war in Chechnya that won the Amnesty International Film Award at the Berlinale in 2011.  

Still from the movie Mariupolis © Mantas Kvedaravičius 


Shortly after the Russian attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Mantas and his fiancée Hanna Bilobrova decided to go back to Mariupol to support Mariupol’s residents and to film the second part of Mariupolis. After passing through several security checkpoints, they arrived in Mariupol on 19 March 2022, while the city was in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and bombing attacks. The couple spent their first nights taking shelter in the basement of a church, unable to leave the vicinity of the building due to the constant bombardment. One week later, they were taken to a slightly calmer area in occupied Mariupol by Andriy (name changed), a man they had met on their journey to the besieged city.

One morning, Mantas and Andriy went out to help evacuate civilians from the city, but the next morning, it was only Andriy who returned with the women who were to be evacuated. He and Mantas had been captured by pro-Russian militias, presumably by DPR fighters*, while trying to get the civilians out of the city, Andriy told Hanna. While the soldiers had released him after some time, they continued to keep Mantas in captivity. Andriy recounted that they had been told to undress, so their bodies could be examined for tattoos and any injuries suggesting they had been in combat. Because of his Lithuanian passport and a bruise on the back of his shoulder, likely from carrying a bag of one of the women who were to be evacuated, the soldiers had considered Mantas suspicious of having carried a weapon and kept him in detention.

Wanting to leave quickly and still under stress after his arrest, Andriy only gave a brief explanation of what had happened, along with rather imprecise directions to the location where the arrest had taken place. Nevertheless, with what little information she had, Hanna set out to find Mantas. During the subsequent days, she scoured the area again and again, leaving Mantas’ description, photos and contact details with soldiers. Neither knowing where Mantas was being held, nor by whom, made the search very difficult for her.

"And so every day I was circling the area, constantly looking for traces of Mantas. Someone advised me which headquarters or place to contact, but no one knew anything. [...] I was afraid I wouldn’t find him. And I made a decision for myself that I would not leave Mariupol until I found him. Dead or alive."

Hanna Bilobrova

After days of searching in the middle of an ongoing war, Hanna finally received a clue that was as pivotal as it was disastrous: One of the soldiers, presumably a member of the DPR unit that had detained Mantas, eventually told her that her “husband” had been found dead. Despite the shock, Hanna managed to continue her search and two days later she found Mantas’ corpse on the street in the immediate vicinity of a DPR headquarters. Again, it was soldiers from the same unit who had brought her to the site. The circumstances clearly suggested that Mantas had not been killed where he lay, but had been placed there after the fact. 

* DPR fighters: The so-called Donetsk People’s Republic is situated in the occupied regions of eastern Ukraine. The DPR was proclaimed by armed Russian-backed separatists in 2014, and it initially operated as a breakaway state until it was annexed by Russia in 2022. According to Proekt Media, a Russian independent investigative media outlet, Russian-backed forces from the so-called DPR took control of the area where Mantas was detained on 21-22 March 2022. 


Under extremely difficult circumstances, Hanna managed to get Mantas' body out of Mariupol and, after an exhausting journey, handed it over to the Lithuanian investigating authorities for a forensic examination. After Mantas’ death, Hanna, together with the editor Dounia Sichov, indeed completed the film Mariupolis 2 using the footage Mantas had taken on the ground, which was later smuggled out of Mariupol. The film premiered at Cannes Film Festival, where it won the jury’s Special Award, and later won the European Film Award for Best Documentary.

"He didn’t deserve such a cruel death. And now I want to finish his work because he wanted so. That’s why we went there – to show how people live. Everything is filmed, and I want to finish what he did." 

Hanna Bilobrova

Wanting to support Hanna and this case, legal advisors from ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability Program met with her to listen to her account and review the information she had retrieved on potential witnesses and suspects.We have formed a team of three international lawyers - including ECCHR general secretary Wolfgang Kaleck - to assist in finding the truth and promote justice. In November 2022 one of them travelled to Lithuania to meet with the Lithuanian Authorities presenting further evidence. In cooperation with Bellingcat, an international investigative research network, we are working on advancing ongoing open-source investigations.

Still from the movie Mariupolis 2 © Mantas Kvedaravičius & Hanna Bilobrova


In addition to the casework, our newly launched webreport "Avenues for Accountability" provides an overview of the international legal situation concerning criminal justice in the Russian-Ukrainian war, along with material that assesses various obstacles and pathways to the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations arising from the conflict. It can be accessed here.

We would like to thank you for your generous support thus far, which we seek again with this newsletter. It’s great to have you on our side!

Kind regards,

Andreas Schüller
Program Director International Crimes and Accountability



Supporting ECCHR means having a direct stake in supporting the case of Mantas and promoting justice for Ukraine. And in the preservation of our independence.
Image above: Still from the movie Mariupolis 2 © Mantas Kvedaravičius & Hanna Bilobrova

You have questions about this newsletter?
Let's stay in touch!



Zossener Straße 55 – 58
D – 10961 Berlin

+ 49 30 400 485 90


Bank details

Bank: Berliner Volksbank
IBAN: DE77 100 90000 885360 7011

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights e.V. (ECCHR)
Wolfgang Kaleck
Zossener Str. 55-58, Aufgang D
D-10961 BERLIN

+ 49 (0)30 - 695060 0

If you no longer wish to receive this email, you can unsubscribe here. We will then delete your name and email address from both us and CleverReach.

Further informationen on data protection and imprint.