Entertainment20 Days in Mariupol": A harrowing documentary spotlighting war atrocities

20 Days in Mariupol": A harrowing documentary spotlighting war atrocities

"20 Days in Mariupol" is nominated for an Oscar in the documentary film category.
"20 Days in Mariupol" is nominated for an Oscar in the documentary film category.
Images source: © Press materials
12:44 PM EST, March 1, 2024
Directed by war correspondent Mstyslav Chernov, the film begins with a view from a window, capturing smoke billowing over the buildings opposite. A figure stands in front of the camera, holding another camera and wearing a cap labeled "press". Through a window on the opposite side of the apartment, a tank marked with a Z, a symbol of Russian aggression, is visible. More and more tanks surround the hospital, where hundreds of patients are receiving care.
"Someone told me: 'Wars don't start with explosions, but with silence,'" the narrator reflects. Yet, in "20 Days in Mariupol," moments of silence are rare. Every sound signals an impending attack or its aftermath, filled with screams and lamentations.
The military base in Mariupol, at Crimea's doorstep, was destroyed on the first day of the war. Journalists knew this port city, vital for its industrial capacity, would be among the first targets. They had been there eight years earlier when Russia annexed Crimea through similarly aggressive means.
Together with camera operator Evgeniy Maloletka, Chernov encounters a panicked woman walking her dog on the street. She is fraught with worry about her son, who went to work, unaware that the war had started. The journalist advises her to calmly go home and seek shelter in the basement, assuring her that civilians would not be targeted. "I was wrong. An hour later, missiles rained down on that district," he admits off-screen.
Within two days, a quarter of the city's residents fled. Chernov follows those who remained. Some, particularly the elderly or mothers with young children, try to endure the worst in shelters. The rest, mostly healthcare workers and men enlisted in the military, are at the front line.
The filmmaker does not shield viewers, presenting harrowing images of dismembered bodies, children being resuscitated, and the despair and anger of doctors, nurses, and parents. "Show this to that scumbag Putin! Show him the eyes of this child and the tears of the doctors," one of the medics to the camera. At the time, Russian media claimed the massacred patients were merely hired actors.
A still from the movie "20 dni w Mariupolu"
A still from the movie "20 dni w Mariupolu"© Press materials
While it might seem that such graphic footage has become too common in the media, desensitizing viewers, this documentary fights for the truth, standing firm against Russian propaganda.
Thanks to Mstyslav Chernov's photography, the world learned about the Russian military's attack on the maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol. The film documents more war crimes, including mass graves.
Although "20 Days in Mariupol" confronts viewers with brutality, it serves as a prime example of committed journalism in wartime. Chernov's work, along with other pieces by the Ukrainian correspondent, has been honored with the Pulitzer Prize and has won awards at significant documentary festivals: IDFA, Sundance, CPH:Dox, and is also a contender for an Oscar.
The Western world, through this recognition, expresses its refusal to remain indifferent, rejecting the notion of leaving Ukrainians to face Putin's Russia alone. While there's no illusion that the film can alter the course of the war, it's undeniable that, for many viewers worldwide, Chernov's documentary will serve as a crucial portrayal of a history that must not be repeated.
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