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‘20 Days In Mariupol’ Earns First Oscar For Ukraine; Director Says He Would Give It Up To Save Ukrainian Lives, Hostages

‘20 Days In Mariupol’ Earns First Oscar For Ukraine; Director Says He Would Give It Up To Save Ukrainian Lives, Hostages

In one of the most competitive races in years, 20 Days in Mariupol won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature tonight, earning director Mstyslav Chernov an Academy Award to go with a Pulitzer Prize.

The film from the Associated Press, PBS’ Frontline and GBH came into the night a slight favorite but faced a tough test from fellow nominees Bobi Wine: The People’s President, The Eternal Memory, Four Daughters, and To Kill a Tiger. The documentary, which premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, centers on the harrowing siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Thousands of civilians were killed in Russia’s assault.

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On the Osar stage, Chernov, a native of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, thanked his collaborators and said, “This is the first Oscar in the Ukrainian history. And I’m honored.” But with rising emotion, he quickly added, “I’m honored, but probably I will be the first director on the [Oscar] stage who will say, I wish I would never make this film. I wish to be able to exchange this [for] Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities.”

The Oscar audience applauded as Chernov continued, “I wish to give all the recognition to 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, cannot change the past. But we all together, 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. Thank you Ukraine, Slava Ukraini.

The director shared the Oscar with producers Michelle Mizner and Raney Aronson-Rath. Chernov previously won the Pulitzer for his coverage of the war in Ukraine, an assignment in which he faced the risk of death on a daily basis. Documenting the war meant leaving behind his wife and two young daughters.

'20 Days in Mariupol'
’20 Days in Mariupol’

20 Days in Mariupol opens with a scene of a Russian tank swiveling its gun barrel toward a hospital, where Chernov and his team looked down from an upper floor.

“Exactly in that moment in the film, this moment of uncertainty, the moment when tanks are shooting at the residential areas, when the hospital is surrounded and we are trapped, I’m thinking about my family, about my daughters, the fact that I probably will not make it out alive,” Chernov told Deadline in an interview last month.

It was the second year in a row that the Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature winner delivered an implicit rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 2023 victor in the category was Navalny, Daniel Roher’s film about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last month while being held in an Arctic prison.

Billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia have been tied up for months in Congress. President Biden made another urgent plea for passage of the aid bill during his State of the Union address last week. “If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not,” the president said. “But Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself. That is all Ukraine is asking.”

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