Schreiber’s crusade for Ukraine

Actor spearheads campaign for help at the grassroots

by Richard Mowe

Liev Schreiber meets his fans at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Liev Schreiber meets his fans at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Photo: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine some four months ago, Hollywood celebrities have been responding to the humanitarian crisis with fund-raising initiatives and supportive visits to the country as well as talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Among the throng have been Sean Penn, Ben Stiller and Ashton Kutcher but few can offer such personal connections and conviction as Liev Schreiber who was born in the States but had fondly remembered Ukrainian grandparents.

On a special “ambassadorial” trip to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Schreiber who was last in the country and at the Festival some 18 years ago for his directorial debut Everything Is Illuminated, based on the book by Safran Foer. It details the story of a young American (played by Elijah Wood) searching for his family roots in Ukraine.

“The story was very close to home for me because I am an American who has Ukrainian ancestry but I never felt a particular affinity to it. To all intents and purposes I have never known anything but New York City,” says the actor with a reputation for an eclectic stage and screen career with, to his credit, such award winning films as Spotlight and the blockbuster X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“My grandfather died when I was in my twenties and I was very close to him. Although I didn’t now much about his life everything I have done in my career was drawn or inspired from something in his life.

Liev Shcreiber: "To all intents and purposes I have never known anything but New York City,”
Liev Shcreiber: "To all intents and purposes I have never known anything but New York City,” Photo: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

“When the invasion began, I began thinking about what it meant to be Ukrainian and to be honest I had no idea, particularly when I see men my age who are graphic designers, or stone masons, or artists, hugging their children and saying goodbye to their wives and picking up guns and preparing to fight in a war in which they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned and not knowing whether they would ever see their families again.

"For me that was a testimony to their courage and resilience and a reminder to me that I was not Ukrainian as I was sitting on my couch in my comfortable apartment in New York and doing absolutely nothing. I felt that there had to be something I could do so I reached out to three influential friends. “

Our idea was to make it easier for people to help. My feeling was that my grandfather who was the kind of person who would do anything to help would have approved because he was part of a generation of Americans who had no question of enlisting but were ready to fight to push fascism back.

“They had lived through the Second World War and knew what it meant and what the ideals of our democratic society are. The idea of self-governance was meaningful to them yet it maybe has lost some of its meaning for us.”

Schreiber co-launched BlueCheck Ukraine, an initiative aimed at channelling critical financial support to Ukrainian aid groups rather than to big international charities such as the Red Cross.

He has visited the war-torn country in person, staying mainly in the relatively safe surrounds of Lviv, He did not tell his family he was there until he had returned safely. He’s about to go off again. After a marital split, he co-parents his two teenage sons (with British actress Naomi Watts).

He views America as “as a nation of grand-parents and I see most of Europe that way as well. We are all connected to these stories in quite intimate ways … and I know Czechs had their own history with the former Soviet Socialist Republic. Ukrainians and the Poles are not dissimilar. Zelensky said everyone is much more courageous than you think you are, and he also said he felt it is better to deal with it now before comes knocking on our doors.”

Schreiber notes that the Blue Check organisation is currently in the process of restructuring but once ready, in a few days the sites will be active: www.bluecheck.in and www.bluecheck.in/donate.

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