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by Karen Pecota

Ukraine | 2022 Director: Mstyslav Chernov

Ukrainian filmmaker and journalist Mstyslav Chernov from The Associated Press (AP) collaborates with two fellow (AP) colleagues, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Evgeniy Maloletka to piece together their original still and video photography for the documentary 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL.

Chernov, an award winning Associated Press (AP) journalist is a Ukrainian war correspondent, filmmaker, photographer, and novelist (The Dreamtime, published in October 2022); 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL is his first feature-length film.

Vasilisa Stepanenko is a freelance video journalist and correspondent from the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Her work focuses on issues of human rights and social justice relating to war.

Evgeniv Maloletka is a Ukrainian freelance photojournalist covering the Russia-Ukraine war for The Associated Press. Along with AP video journalists Stepanenko and Chernov the three document the fall of Mariupol and served as the only international media remaining inside the besieged Mariupol.

In March of 2022, the world watched the breaking news of Russia's attack into the country of Ukraine. The world was in shock of the inexcusable atrocities provoked by Russian troops. A year later, the insanity of a power hungry Russia continues to kill and destroy everything in their path, including the lives of innocent Ukrainian people and the land they call home.

Three international journalists arrive in the city of Mariupol hours before the first rockets landed. They survive for twenty days capturing the devastation on the city and its people. Their coverage captures the images of this particular war of dying children, mass graves, bombing of a maternity hospital and so much more. To this day, Ukrainians continue to endure the hardships of an inconceivable war.

Mstyslav Chernov, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Evgeniy Maloletka tell their story as the last remaining press team trapped in the city of Mariupol as the Russians were taking the city by force. The harrowing experience trying to do their work, document the atrocities of the Russian invasion and for twenty days maneuver their own safety.

The team's first-hand footage that we witnessed on our U.S. news channels was from these journalists. The documentary 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL gives a gripping account in more detail of the news snippets we were given.

The documentary takes the audience on the team's difficult journey traipsing through Mariupol trying to get their work out by using their network of resources and looking for functioning cell towers. 100% intense drama!

Their goals were to stay alive, protect their documentation, and get it out of the country safely. It was tricky. They had to be on the move constantly. Their strategy required calculated precision to avoid confrontation with the Russian troops. Fortunately, knowing the layout of the city, along with the help of Ukrainian professionals and civilians left behind, their impossible mission was made possible.

The Q & A (question and answer) session after the film revealed the sincerity of the crew and their sense of duty. We understood in greater detail the grave danger trying to hide from Russian troops. The possibility of their work being confiscated, they themselves captured and possibly killed was a real threat.

As we listened to the team share it made the reality of what people were going through that more real and palatable and understand the full context of their reporting. It was more visceral. We all saw the footage of the maternity hospital and those being carried to safety. One particular woman was in labor when the Russians began to bomb. Their story told how often they would go back to the various sites and check-up on the people they photographed, as well as shared their fate. Each account was incredibly moving.

The medical staff often helped protect the team by putting them in scrubs to hide them as medical people. When it was safe they scurried them away in an escape to the next location. A real life thriller!

Talking with Evgeniv after the Q & A, we learned more about their jobs and the life threatening situation they encountered. We listened intently. We thanked him for their bravery and the team's desire to communicate the truth. He was appreciative and humbled; but, very quick to express that there is no need to thank him (and colleagues) because it is their job. They do their job with passion; their love for humanity; and, the desire to document the truth in real-time to the world, and for historical purposes. He wanted us to know that they sign-on as war correspondents knowing full well the risks of the occupation. Meaning that it's all in a day’s work, and they perform their job to the best of their ability.