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“I wish I never made this film”: director of Oscar-winning 20 Days in Mariupol

Receiving the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, Mstyslav Chernov said he would exchange the award and recognition for Russia never invading Ukraine
Oscar Chernov Ukraine 20 days in Mariupol
Mstyslav Chernov receives Oscar for his documentary “20 Days in Mariupol.” Screenshot from video
“I wish I never made this film”: director of Oscar-winning 20 Days in Mariupol

The eyewitness documentary 20 Days in Mariupol, shot by war reporter Mstyslav Chernov during the Russian siege of the Ukrainian city in 2022, has won an Academy Award — the first for Ukraine.

The film was made by director and photographer Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Yevhen Malolietka, and producer and journalist Vasylisa Stepanenko. They were the last journalists to stay in the besieged Ukrainian city and recorded the early stages of Russia’s destruction of Mariupol. All three of them received the Pulitzer Prize for their work. In Ukraine, they were also awarded the Shevchenko Prize in 2024.

The film has already won the Best Documentary at the British BAFTA Awards. And Mstyslav Chernov received the US Directors Guild Award (DGA Awards) for “outstanding directorial achievement in documentary filmmaking.”

20 Days in Mariupol captured Russian air strikes on hospitals and fire departments, Russian tanks shooting residential buildings, and the mass graves of people killed by Russia’s war. Russian officials dismissed the journalists’ footage as “fakes.”

In his speech on stage, Mstyslav Chernov said he wished he never would have had to make this film, and would exchange all the recognition he had for Russia never invading Ukraine.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history. And I’m honored. I’m honored.

But probably I will be the first director on this stage who will say, I wish I would [have] never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this [award] for Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities.

I wish to give [away] all the recognition [in exchange for] Russia not killing tens of thousands of my fellow Ukrainians. I wish for them to release all the hostages, all the soldiers who are protecting their lands, all the civilians who are now in their jails.

But I cannot change the history. I cannot change the past.

But we all together, you, among you, some of the most talented people in the world, we can make sure that the history record is set straight and that the truth will prevail, and that the people of Mariupol and those who have given their lives will never be forgotten.

Because cinema forms memories, and memories form history.

So thank you all, and thank you all. Thanks to Ukraine. Slava Ukraini!”

20 Days in Mariupol was the third Ukrainian film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the 96 years of its existence.

About the documentary: Trapped within the besieged city of Mariupol, a team of Ukrainian journalists from the Associated Press faced the dual challenges of documenting the atrocities perpetrated by the Russian invasion force and ensuring their own survival. As the sole international reporters remaining in the city, they captured pivotal and haunting images that came to define the war: tragic scenes of dying children, mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital, and more. Chernov later directed “20 days in Mariupol” based on this footage.

Mstyslav Chernov is a Ukrainian war correspondent, photographer, and videographer who has extensively covered major world events for The Associated Press, including the Syrian Civil War and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The film has received international recognition, including the Sundance Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.

Chernov is the 2023 Pulitzer Prize winner and has received prestigious awards for his outstanding work covering conflicts worldwide. Despite facing injuries, he remains dedicated to journalism as a writer for AP and president of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers.

Produced by PBS Frontline in collaboration with The Associated Press, the acclaimed documentary stands as a testament to the courage and resilience of Ukrainian journalists.


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