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“20 Days in Mariupol” wins Oscar for Best Documentary Feature

20 Days in Mariupol” by Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov received the 2024 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film. The story covers the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion from the bombed and besieged city of Mariupol.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, and I’m honored,” Chernov said, receiving an award. “Probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I’d never made this film, I wish to be able to exchange this to Russia never attacking Ukraine.”

Photo: Oscars 2024 via Suspilne Culture

The last international reporters in Mariupol

February 24, 2022. Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with tanks moving through the border and missiles hitting cities across the country. Just an hour prior, a team of Ukrainian journalists working with the Associated Press arrived in Mariupol. 

Videographer Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, and producer Vasylisa Stepanenko came to the city that would become one of the epicenters of Russian war crimes. Over the next 20 days, they stayed in the besieged Mariupol, documenting the horrific events of February and March.

“This is painful to watch. But it must be painful to watch,” the trailer for “20 Days in Mariupol” says.

“20 Days in Mariupol” was written, filmed, and directed by Mstyslav Chernov and produced together with FRONTLINE PBS and Associated Press. Chernov’s feature debut was put together with footage capturing what later became defining images of Russia’s war against Ukraine: the brutal shelling of residential areas, the attack on a maternity hospital, the deaths of adults and children, and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

20 days in Mariupol” trailer

30 hours of footage into the 95-minute movie

During their time in Mariupol, Chernov and Maloletka sent photos and videos to the media while hiding under the stairs near a destroyed grocery store—the only place in the city where they could still find an Internet connection. However, only a fraction of the materials were shared this way.

Air strike into the centre of Mariupol hit maternity hospital
The aftermath of the Russian shelling of maternity hospital No. 3 in Mariupol.
The woman in the photo, Iryna Kalinina, and her son, Myron, both died. March 9, 2022.
Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

“We were sometimes able to send a minute or two of the most important footage. I had about thirty hours of video when we broke out of the encirclement on the 20th day. And I sent maybe 30-40 minutes. We felt guilty that we had left. We felt that we needed to do more,” says Mstyslav Chernov.

“And then we came up with the idea to make a film. Because when people watch the news, they see thirty seconds, or maybe a minute and a half. These are just pieces, and they don’t have the whole picture. The film gives context, makes it possible to understand the scale of the destruction and the scale of the suffering that Ukrainians and residents of Mariupol went through.”

The film was created with the team of FRONTLINE, a documentary program distributed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States. “I have never cried so much while logging footage. I have never been so devastated by emotions. But also, I have never been so inspired by the work of a videographer who tells the story of his country during the war with such vision and determination,” shares the film’s editor, Michelle Mizner.

International recognition

The world premiere of “20 Days in Mariupol” took place at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition section on January 20, 2023. The film won the Audience Award at the festival.

The world premiere of “20 Days in Mariupol” at the Sundance Film Festival. From the left: Derl McCrudden, AP vice president for global news production; Vasylisa Stepanenko, AP field producer; Evgeniy Maloletka, photographer; Mstyslav Chernov, AP video journalist; Michelle Mizner, Frontline editor; Raney Aronson, Frontline editor-in-chief.
Photo: Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

“20 Days in Mariupol” was awarded in the Best Documentary Feature category at Oscars 2024. The film also won in three categories at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards 2023, the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) Award 2024, and the award for “Best Documentary” at the British BAFTA Film Awards.

Moreover, for their work in Mariupol, Mstyslav Chernov, Yevhen Malolietka, and Vasylisa Stepanenko have already received several international awards: the 2023 Pulitzer Prize, the Livingstone Prize, the Rory Peck Award, The Royal Television Society Programme Awards, the DW Freedom of Speech Award, the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award, the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, the George Gongadze Prize, the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award, and the Press Freedom Awards 2022.

After nearly a decade covering international conflicts, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, for the Associated Press,
Mstyslav Chernov presented his first feature film.
Photo: 20 Days in Mariupol / Facebook

Where to watch “20 Days in Mariupol

Depending on the country, the film may be available on the Frontline FBS YouTube channel, Google Play Movies, Vudu, and Amazon Video.