State Dept. screens AP-PBS Ukraine war film days after 2-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. State Department on Tuesday hosted a screening of the award-winning Associated Press-PBS “Frontline” Ukraine war documentary “20 Days in Mariupol,” days after Ukraine marked the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Elizabeth Allen, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said the film not only documented the reality of the war but counters “disinformation campaigns attempting to erase Ukraine’s sovereignty, identity and culture." She said the State Department has plans to screen it in more than 30 countries around the world.

“I just want to reiterate here my firm belief that cultural diplomacy is an essential component of our national security strategy,” Allen told those who attended Tuesday’s screening, many of them diplomats from foreign embassies in Washington.

The screening came as uncertainty in Congress is mounting over continued U.S. aid for Ukraine and as Ukrainian forces face growing challenges on the frontline, including ammunition shortages.

The AP was not a sponsor of the event but did send journalist and filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov to attend the 90-minute screening and to participate in a panel discussion afterward.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, urged viewers to see the film as “an urgent reminder of atrocities” committed by the invading Russian forces and “to remember that it’s not just an abstract collection of atrocities,” that all those who were killed had a name.

The film this month won the prize for best documentary at the British Academy Film Awards and a Directors Guild Award for Chernov. It is nominated in the best documentary category at the Academy Awards on March 10.

Chernov and an AP team spent three weeks in the Ukrainian port city as it was besieged by Russian forces in early 2022, documenting at huge personal risk the devastating toll on civilians and capturing enduring images of the war.

Chernov arrived in Mariupol one hour before Russia began its bombardment, along with photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko. The images and stories they captured — the death of a 4-year-old girl, freshly dug mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital — unflinchingly documented the grim, relentless realities of the siege.

The war in Ukraine and other conflicts, including the war between Israel and Hamas, have been particularly dangerous for journalists. In December, the International Federation of Journalists said 94 journalists were killed around the world in 2023 and almost 400 were imprisoned.

The State Department said the screening was “part of a larger effort by the United States to elevate film — both American film and international film — to promote peace and democracy everywhere. ‘20 Days in Mariupol’ delivers on both of those foreign policy goals.”

Through the department’s Film Diplomacy Screening Series, a public-private partnership launched in January, the series plans to highlight all this year's Oscar-nominated films for Best International Feature Film: “The Teacher’s Lounge” from Germany, “Io Capitano” from Italy, “Perfect Days” from Japan, “Society of the Snow” from Spain and “The Zone of Interest” from Britain.