20 Days In Mariupol

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

20 Days In Mariupol
"Oscar shortlisted for Best International Feature and Best Documentary, this is an intense film with little respite even when no bullets are being fired." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Built from reportage footage from the southeastern city of Mariuopol and accompanied by the sombre voiceover of director and journalist Mstyslav Chernov, his film offers a harrowing insight into the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Associated Press journalist was one of the last international media representatives to leave the besieged city as it came under intensive Russian bombardment, which Chernov’s footage shows cared little for the lives of unarmed citizens.

Parts of what he shot, including the shelling of housing blocks and a maternity hospital did make it into the international news cycle but here it is presented in a much more condensed and intense fashion, as Chernov also describes the situation and his feelings surrounding it.

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“Where should I run?” one woman asks him. “Where should I hide?” There are certainly no easy answers in a city that was reliant on improvised shelters, seen here full of women, children, the elderly and their pets. Oscar shortlisted for Best International Feature and Best Documentary, this is an intense film with little respite even when no bullets are being fired. At one point, Chernov interviews a man who has lost his home and is now walking the streets with his belongings, who notes he has been walking for four hours with no destination in mind before continuing on.

More shocking still is the sight of medics striving and, frequently, failing to save the lives of people, including babies, the crushing weight of this written on their faces. As the list of atrocities continues, the film shows how the footage appeared on the global news channels but also how it becomes twisted in the propaganda war by Russian stations who try to declare it fake.

The bravery of Chernov, his field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko and stills photographer Evgeniy Maloletka in the face of grave risk cannot be understated. This, in turn, underlines the horrendous situation the civilians are in, as they have no alternative but to endure the onslaught as humanitarian corridors fail to remain open.

Beyond the Russian attacks, Chernov captures the way civil society begins to break down. One woman berates a horde of people who are raiding her shop, at another moment we see a teenager wheeling stolen computer gear down the street, even though he risks being shot in the process.

“This is painful to watch but it must be painful to watch,” notes Chernov, all too aware, perhaps, of how atrocities can be swallowed by the 24-hour news cycle as it churns relentlessly on. Later he says: “We keep filming and everything stays the same.” It’s a thought that’s likely to stay with you next time you switch channels.

Reviewed on: 12 Jan 2024
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As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities.

Director: Mstyslav Chernov

Year: 2023

Country: Ukraine


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