The unyielding gaze of war

UKRAINE / While the Russian invasion commences, a group of Ukrainian journalists who are stuck in the besieged city of Mariupol strive to carry out their duty of documenting the war's brutalities.
Producer: Frontline (UA), Associated Press
Country: Ukraine

Prepare for unshakable images—the destruction of Mariupol and its inhabitants. We are witnessing firsthand footage of the Russian invasion thanks to Ukrainian war correspondent Mstyslav Chernov and his team. 20 Days in Mariupol shows the horror the remaining inhabitants experienced, told by courageous doctors and other volunteers who fought for Ukrainian lives in the ruins.

20 Days in Mariupol Mstyslav Chernov
20 Days in Mariupol, a film by Mstyslav Chernov

«Film, Film»

The film begins with a green tank in the street with a white painted «Z» on the side, filmed from a window above. «Film, Film», someone is shouting. The tank is bumping into and moving a parked yellow bus. «This is the first time I saw «Z», the Russian sign of war. The hospital is surrounded. Dozens of doctors, hundreds of patients, and us». The director and cameraman, Chernov, has a voiceover during the film. «I have no illusions about what will happen if the Russians capture us», continues the calm voice when he is filming the Russian tank cannon pointing at the building he is filming from.

«I had to document what was happening, and I am going back again», says Chernov after the European Premiere at the film festival CPH:DOX, following a never-ending standing ovation. Chernov explained how the team struggled to get the footage out of Mariupol as a witness to the world and to prevent misinformation and propaganda. The film shows how difficult it is when there are no signals from the satellites and no electricity. But the team succeeded just in time. The vital footage was shown on TV worldwide, but the Russians claimed it was manipulated.

«I have no illusions about what will happen if the Russians capture us»

Horrifying visuals

But the horrifying visuals of men carrying a stretcher with a pregnant woman with a crushed pelvis, the doctors fighting to save a little girl, sadly unsuccessful, and the fear and desperation when the Russian tanks are entering the city has not been questioned for its authenticity by the world society. Neither has the footage of the collection of dead bodies in a basement where we witness the inhabitants digging a ditch before they can bury their loved ones in a mass grave. And in the meantime, the overworked and exhausted doctors, nurses, and helpers are fighting to save lives with few painkillers and other medicines left.

As there are no bomb shelters in the city, people will hide in the basements of apartment buildings. Some are trying to calm their kin by telling them everything is fine. But we know they are not safe in the city, and as an audience, you know this will not be a happy ending.

I must admit that I hoped the ending was near during the film. Not because it was too long and uninteresting. Exactly the opposite. The documentation was unbearable, and I felt so ashamed that this is going on in 2023. But what the team captured and transformed into a film documenting what is now referred to as war crimes is incredibly brave and deserves everyone’s attention. Mstyslav Chernov and his team are risking their lives by insisting on documenting their country’s destruction and suffering. And Chernov says, «I am willing to give my life for it.»

20 Days in Mariupol Mstyslav Chernov
20 Days in Mariupol, a film by Mstyslav Chernov

War correspondent

Chernov was born in 1985 and is an acclaimed war correspondent. He covered the war in Donbas, the civil war in Syria, the battle in Mosul, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He received numerous awards, among others Deutsche Welles Freedom of Speech Award. 20 Days in Mariupol World-premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2023 and won the Audience Award.

The Russian invasion of Mariupol started on March 10th, 2022. Mariupol is a seaport located nearby the Sea of Azov and has a port. A Russian annexe means a direct route between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula. Furthermore, Mariupol is situated in the Donetsk region consisting of one of the two breakaway republics that Russia recognizes—giving it symbolic value.

What about a donation, for full access and 2-3 print copies in your mail a year?
(Modern Times Review is a non-profit organisation, and really appreciate such support from our readers.) 

Helle Hansen
Helle Hansen
Documentary film consultant, and regular critic in Modern Times Review.

The first signs of war

UKRAINE: A compellingly grim account of the country's descent into war.

Filming the right-wing with ‘an open heart’

HOMOPHOBIA: Polish Prayers unravels the trajectory of a young Pole as he journeys away from the homophonic, ultra-conservative Brotherhood

Growing up under the approaching storm clouds of war

UKRAINE: The lives of ordinary teenagers in Ukraine's Donbas region as they navigate adolescence, dreams, and the devastating impact of conflict on their futures.

A frozen art for futile times

ART: With the slogan ethics before aesthetics, a group of Serbian artists collectively looked to draw attention to the negative social trends of the time.

Where civilisation began

NATURE: Embark on an awe-inspiring journey through space and time while honouring the majesty and fragility of our planet's waterways.

Coming of age in times of war

UKRAINE: An achingly tender film about growing up and a moving contemplation on life itself.
- Advertisement -spot_img

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you