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Ukrainian documentary 20 Days in Mariupol nominated for the Oscars

20 Days in Mariupol by Mstyslav Chernov received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature Film.

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

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 hiding under the stairs near a destroyed grocery store: the only place in the city where they could still find an Internet connection. But 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 movie. Because when people watch the news, they see thirty seconds or maybe a minute and a half. And these are just pieces, and they don’t have the whole picture. And the film gives context, makes it possible to understand the scale of the destruction, 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

Among other awards, 20 Days in Mariupol won three categories at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards 202, the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) Award 2024, and the award for “Best Documentary” at the British BAFTA Film Awards.

The film was also nominated for the Oscars in the category “Best Documentary Feature Film. The 96th Academy Awards will be held on March 10, 2024.

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.

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.