“20 Days in Mariupol”


Metacritic (9/10), Letterboxd (4.5/5), Imdb.com (9/10), TMDB.com (4.5/5)

Considering the searing nature of this troubling documentary, I feel somewhat uneasy in recommending it as must-see viewing. Nevertheless, this is one of those films that has to be seen in order for the truth behind its story to be fully realized. When Ukrainian journalist-writer-director Mstyslav Chernov and two colleagues chronicled the first days of the nation’s brutal conflict with Russia, they probably had no idea what they were in for. Working from the Black Sea port city of Mariupol, they captured devastating footage of the relentless Russian attacks, particularly the enemy’s ruthless assaults on civilian targets, despite assurances to the contrary. The Russians were simultaneously determined to destroy the Ukrainian communications infrastructure to prevent word of the atrocities from getting out to the wider world, seriously hindering the work of Chernov and company as the only international journalists still in the war-torn country at the time. As the city was systematically being destroyed, the international community had little knowledge of what was transpiring in Mariupol beyond Russian President Vladimir Putin’s skewed propaganda claims. But, when images of the warfront finally made their way out of Ukraine, the world got an entirely new perspective on the carnage unfolding there, despite the Russians’ astoundingly incredulous claims that everything that had been photographed was staged, not unlike what one would find on a movie set. Such reporting opened the eyes of the world, first in media coverage at the time and now in this film, a joint production of the Associated Press and the PBS documentary series Frontline. This gripping release holds nothing back, making it an exceedingly difficult watch for virtually everyone, including those with thick skins who ordinarily might not be affected by such graphic imagery. However, it honestly reveals what the Ukrainians were up against in this horrific siege, putting the war crimes of the aggressors on display for all to see. In addition, this offering reinforces the importance of the work of intrepid journalists under the most trying of conditions, particularly where those wreaking havoc are desperate to keep the facts from reaching the light of day. This highly acclaimed film – a recipient of ample awards season buzz and honors – may be difficult to sit through, but discovering the truth is often a challenging process, and both Ukraine and the world should be grateful that there are those out there who are willing to put themselves on the line to see that through, no matter how treacherous or daunting the circumstances may be.