“Wars don’t start with explosions, they start with silence.”
20 Days in Mariupol is the International Feature submission for Ukraine. This film begins in February 24th, 2022. Vladimir Putin announces that a “special military operation” in “self-defence” was starting due to threats that Ukraine might attack Russia. Mstyslav Chernov, and two of his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko decide to head to Mariupol, knowing full well that this key port, just 30 miles from the enemy border would be Russia’s first target. They were right, within hours, bombs begin to fall and this documentary showcases the next twenty days in the city.
There aren’t enough trigger warnings to prepare someone for what’s to come in this unflinching, never compromising documentary. From its opening frame, the film doesn’t shy away from the most harrowing scenes, including graphic depictions of violence, bloody deaths, and the aftermath of destruction. 20 Days in Mariupol gives one a sense of life during wartime that isn’t an abstraction. It conveys the true cost of armed conflict and the human lives that it swallows along the way. Lives are shattered as family members are killed, homes destroyed, neighbourhoods blown away, and hope gone.
From the first shot of Mariupol still intact, to the next three weeks where there’s nothing left standing, the filmmaker takes us into hospitals, emergency rooms, and makeshift bomb shelters, immersing us in the daily struggles and resilience of those living amidst the chaos. Watching people walking in the streets, lost, confused, destroyed, hopeless is agonizing. The isolation experienced by the residents of this city is overpowering as communication to the outside world has been erased. The day-to-day accounting of Russian atrocities committed against Ukraine is so gut-wrenching.
Journalism is vitally important and because of a few brave reporters, the world now has proof of historical events that happened during these twenty days. It can’t be disputed. It can’t be deleted. It can’t be forgotten. The truth has been proven. And the devastation can’t be rewritten.
“My brain desperately wants to forget all of this. But the camera will not let it happen.” And the thing that scares us the most, is realizing that so much more occurred during this time that was never filmed by anyone. What else happened during these twenty days? And what happened in the 66 more days that it took for Mariupol to fall? Our thoughts will forever be with the Ukrainian people.