Ukraine’s Oscar winning director says he would exchange his award for no war

March 12, 2024 - 1:49 PM
Mstyslav Chernov, Michelle Mizner and Raney Aronson - Rath pose with the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature Film for "20 Days in Mariupol" in the Oscars photo room at the 96th Academy awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2024. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Ukrainian director Mstyslav Chernov, who on Sunday won the first Academy Award for his country for the “20 Days in Mariupol” documentary about the Russian siege of the port city, said he would rather have no Oscar and no war waged against his country.

Chernov, a video journalist for The Associated Press, shot the film during the first days of Russia’s 2022 invasion in Ukraine when trapped in Mariupol with a team of journalists. On Sunday, the film won the Oscar for best documentary feature.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, and I’m honored,” Chernov said in a powerful acceptance speech to a standing ovation.

“But probably I will be the first director on this stage who will say I wish I never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this to Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities … but I cannot change history. Cannot change the past.”

Mariupol became a byword for horror during a nearly three-month-long Russian siege of the strategic port city between March and May 2022, with trapped civilians forced to bury their dead by the roadside.

At least 8,000 people were killed by fighting or war-related causes during the siege, one of the biggest battles of the nearly two-year war between Russia and Ukraine, the Human Rights Watch said in February.

Two years on the war, which has killed thousands on both sides, displaced millions and turned Ukrainian cities into rubble, has no end in sight, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling continuously on his Western allies to provide Kyiv with necessary military supplies.

“This is a humanitarian emergency, and a matter of supporting the civilians that are being attacked and being killed,” Chernov said at a press conference after the awards.

“It’s not my job to try to convince anyone of anything. Our job is to provide as much context and information as possible.”

— Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry

READ: Full list of Oscar winners at the 96th Academy Awards