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Laramie Movie Scope:
20 Days in Mariupol

A searing documentary on Russian war crimes

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 4, 2023 – The unfiltered story of a city under siege is captured by a determined news crew, the only one to stay inside the Ukrainian city of Mariupol after the Russian shells and bombs started falling in 2022. The Ukrainian Associated Press crew luckily survived the siege for 20 days, and managed to smuggle out video proof of Russian war crimes past numerous Russian checkpoints.

The story revealed by these videos and images is one of brutal inhumanity, and the collapse of civilization inside the city. Anyone who wants to know the truth about Vladimir Putin, war crimes, and the war in Ukraine can do so by getting off social media and opinion-driven news sources, and watch this movie. It graphically shows the brutality of this war, and the cost of it.

Mstyslav Chernov serves as narrator, writer, director and cameraman in this film, aided by the rest of his crew, including photographer Evgeniy Maloletka. The movie is put together from footage taken in the war by Chernov and others, as well as stock footage from a variety of other sources. Original music is from Jordan Dykstra. The movie is a production of the Associated Press and PBS Frontline (WGBH Foundation). I watched it for free on YouTube.

The war in Ukraine has faded into the news background of the Israeli-Gaza war recently. The scale of the Russia-Ukrainian war is much larger, with an estimated 20,000 killed in Mariupol alone. The Hamas attack on Israel on November 7 resulted in about 1,650 people killed or taken prisoner on the Israeli side of the war. To date, the death toll of Palestinians is many times that. Nevertheless, American politicians, and the public, support aid to Israel more strongly than aid to Ukraine.

Russia seems to have a winning propaganda strategy, using proven social media methods, with a big assist from the influential pro-Russian politician, Donald Trump.

The videos and still photos captured by Chernov and his crew during the siege of Mariupol are often disturbing. This is not a movie for children, mainly because of the number of dead and wounded bodies adults in it. The movie also shows people looting stores in Mariupol.

One young boy is shown wheeling his loot along the street in a stolen office chair. The loot is from an electronics store. He says that a bomb landed near friends who were with him, and he doesn't know if any of them survived. In another scene, a man weeps over the body of his son, killed when a bomb blew off his legs during a soccer game.

In another scene, a man named Alexander Imanov, who is wheeling belongings down the street, is interviewed. He says he is moving to his wife's place, because his house was destroyed in the war. When asked how he will avoid the gunfire he shrugged and said, “What are you going to do? They're shooting and I'm walking. That's it.”

One of the few positive scenes amidst the horror of a Ukrainian hospital bombing, is of a survivor, who lost part of her foot in the hospital bombing, successfully giving birth to an apparently healthy baby in another hospital, operating under desperate circumstances. Other parents are seen bitterly grieving over children killed in the war.

Chernov and his team operate under increasingly difficult circumstances with only one place in Mariupol with internet service, and few places to charge their equipment. One charging station is being used to recharge cell phones, now used only for lighting in basements where survivors hide for shelter.

At last, Chernov and his team are rescued by Ukrainian soldiers, who inform them that they are behind enemy lines. A driver and his family accept the risk of driving the journalists out of the city in a Red Cross convoy. They hide their cameras under the seat of the car and make their getaway, while many other people are left behind.

The attitude of the Ukrainian soldiers changes drastically during the 20 days. At first, they refuse to be filmed by the journalists and curse them. At the end, soldiers willingly make statements on camera, in full view, attesting to the horrors of the siege. The soldiers want everyone to see what is happening in Mariupol and they do their best to save the journalists and get them to safety to tell their stories.

The wars in Ukraine, dating back to 2014, have resulted in the deaths of 17 journalists, six of them Russian, four are Ukrainians, the rest are American, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish and French journalists. It has always been dangerous to be a war correspondent, and wars in the 21st Century are no less dangerous to those covering them. The courage of the Ukrainian AP newsmen who braved the dangers of Mariupol is exceptional, a tribute to war journalists everywhere.

This movie is a blistering indictment of war in general, as well as the crimes committed by the Russian army during the siege of Mariupol. It also shows the incredible waste of war, not just in terms of lives lost, but in terms of property damage (an estimated 95 percent of Mariupol was destroyed in the war). This movie is what journalism is all about. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2023 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]