A minibus winds its way through the night on serpentines.
Five children from an Afghan family are sitting in the dimly lit interior.
They are supposed to be brought safely past the Taliban checkpoints across the border to Pakistan - in order to hopefully be reunited with their mother and eldest sister at some point, who managed to escape to Germany.
The children have gone through a dramatic period: They had fled their stepbrothers, who belong to the Taliban.
The brothers terrorized the step-siblings, imprisoned them and eventually even murdered the father.
Political correspondent for the Middle East and Northeast Africa.
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After the Taliban took power on August 15, 2021, the five siblings went into hiding in Kabul after vainly enduring the chaos at the airport for days.
Volunteers from the Kabul Airlift initiative were made aware of the traumatized children and took care of them from then on.
They hoped that the five could fly to Germany "early next year," said an activist to the children in autumn 2021.
As it turns out, that cannot be redeemed.
Why this doesn't work is one of the questions that the RBB documentary "Mission Kabul-Luftbrücke" pursues, in which the story of the five children forms one of the narrative strands.
Today the production of the company Docdays is running in the first;
A much longer four-part version is available in the ARD media library.
A clearly audible tone of criticism
The story is truly cinematic: in view of the rapid events in Afghanistan and the danger posed by the Taliban for many liberal Afghans, a handful of journalists and activists in Germany spontaneously join forces in an aid initiative with the aim of helping Afghans who are at risk on their own to enable escape.
The focus is on the journalist Theresa Breuer, who lived in Afghanistan and is the face and one of the drivers of the project.
She repeatedly travels to Kabul and Pakistan to organize convoys for Afghans in need of protection - dangerous because precisely those who are hostile to the Taliban are to be taken out of the country.
The airlift focuses on people who have worked for Germany and have therefore received an acceptance letter from the federal government.
This is linked to a political critique, which underlies the documentation as a clearly audible keynote.
It's about "the people who have been abandoned by our country," says Breuer at one point with a view to the Bundeswehr rescue flights, which were discontinued at the end of August 2021.
As a child, he had always wanted to be a hero
The concern of the initiators is deeply humanitarian.
However, those responsible for the Kabul airlift speak openly about the fact that another goal was to expose the German government, which found further evacuation flights to be too dangerous: The activists "wanted to show that it's possible," says Ruben Neugebauer, at the Berlin Headquarters the threads come together.
For this reason, the Kabul Airlift even charters a plane in October and brings 148 Afghans to Islamabad.
However, the spectacular action is too expensive for the donation-financed initiative to repeat;
from now on she concentrates on transports overland to Pakistan.
Former employees of the author of this article were also supported by the Kabul Airlift.
The documentary accompanies several families who walk this path into the unknown.
Most of them, like the five siblings, have had bad experiences.
On top of that, leaving your homeland is something that many Afghans obviously find difficult.
The camera is close to Breuer and the protagonists.
This has to do with the fact that camerawoman Vanessa Schlesier, one of the authors of the documentary alongside Antje Boehmert and Ronald Rist, herself worked for the Kabul airlift – a circumstance that is not explicitly discussed.
The repeated criticism of the federal government, whose admission processes were in fact sluggish, has the shortcoming that only the perspective of the activists is presented.
It remains unclear whether nobody in the Foreign Office or the Interior Ministry wanted to comment on the allegations or whether no one was asked.
The documentation sometimes looks like a filmed press conference of the Kabul airlift.
Regardless, the material is deeply impressive.
You can see how Afghan evacuation workers endanger their own lives to help compatriots flee.
One of them, an Afghan named Mojeeb, says he always wanted to be a hero when he was a kid.
What he is doing right now is risky;
but "maybe one or two people will be proud of me".
It should be a little more: the Kabul Airlift brought about 2,500 people out of Afghanistan over the course of a year.
Meanwhile, some are still waiting for a visa for Germany – such as the five siblings from Kabul.
In the last shots from Islamabad, they look very different than at the beginning of their journey: like children who can be carefree for once.
Mission Kabul Airlift
Mission Kabul Airlift
is on ARD this Monday at 10:20 p.m.
Available in the media library.