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No death passes just like that; you carry these stories within yourself

Three weeks of war in the works of Yevhen Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov

Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

Yevhen Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov arrived in Mariupol just an hour before the full-scale Russian invasion began. Previously, they had been documenting the military situation in Bahmut. As the situation escalated, they went to document the daily life of Mariupol—a strategically important city in the war. They stayed in Mariupol for 20 days.

Russian forces approached Mariupol from the west—a direction where threats were not expected. The city was attacked by 18 to 22 thousand Russians with the support of heavy equipment, artillery, aviation, and the navy. Less than six thousand Ukrainian soldiers with limited weapons and ammunition resisted the Russians. Even with such an uneven ratio, the battle for the city lasted for 86 days. Journalists tried to release photos and videos from Mariupol every day.

"It was important to show almost in real-time what was happening. When children were brought to hospitals and attempts were made to resuscitate them, maternity hospitals, mass graves," says Yevhen Maloletka.

At the end of February, the Russians breached the defense in the north and approached Mariupol. The city was shelled with artillery placed on its outskirts. By the beginning of March, Mariupol found itself completely surrounded because battles and massive shelling were taking place in all neighborhoods of the city. The evacuation of civilians from the city was impossible due to the massive shelling by Russian forces.

Photo: Yevhen Maloletka

“When we planned the trip, we told ourselves: if we get surrounded, we will stay as long as we can work," recalls Yevhen Maloletka. Mstyslav Chernov filmed for 30 hours, while in the news, they managed to convey about 40 minutes. More events were included in the film "20 Days in Mariupol”—the personal story of journalists who found themselves surrounded with the city's residents. Despite the fear and the risk of death at any moment, Yevhen Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov went out to film every day.

"It was scary, but it was scarier to do nothing, sit and not know what was happening, not have the opportunity to tell about it," says Mstyslav Chernov.

In mid-March, when Mariupol's air defense system was destroyed, Russian planes bombed the city every 20 minutes. The noise of artillery, the whistling of rockets, and the explosions of shells became a constant sound background in Mariupol.

On March 8, the Russians attacked a hospital and a maternity hospital in the center of Mariupol. The ring of Russian forces around the central part of the city gradually tightened. In March, Yevhen Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov were the only international team of journalists in Mariupol who sent materials from there. They also became the last journalists to evacuate from the city due to the threat of being found by Russian soldiers. They left on March 15, and the next day, there was an attack on the Drama Theater in the city center. Journalists tried to create material about the Mariupol theater, but did not have enough photos and video evidence. "People who were leaving tried to erase everything from their phones. Some try to erase not only from their phones but also from their memory," says Yevhen Maloletka.

Photo: Yevhen Maloletka

Materials from the besieged and bombed city by Russian forces were published by almost all leading world publications.

Mstyslav Chernov's "20 Days in Mariupol"

Journalists Yevhen Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Yevhen Maloletka became the winner of one of the most prestigious photo contests, World Press Photo. The film “20 Days in Mariupol” won the audience award at the American independent film festival Sundance.

"It is an honor to represent Ukrainian documentary filmmaking and use this platform to draw attention to the difficulties, resilience, and courage of the Ukrainian people, especially the residents of Mariupol," noted Mstyslav Chernov.

This year, the film is nominated for an Oscar from Ukraine in the “Best International Feature Film” category.

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