Two-minute film clips and sound bites don't tell the story. Reports on the television news or internet services can only cover a few of the developments in a war. Whether we want to learn what is going on in Ukraine or in Gaza we need to see what is happening on the ground. We need to hear from the people suffering in unimaginable ways.

20 Days in Mariupol recounts the first three weeks of the Russian attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in 2022. Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov directs, writes, and narratives footage taken by himself and a small team of AP journalists. Through this documentary, they bear witness to the horror of the war and its impact upon Mariupol, including some Ukrainian soldiers but mostly civilian victims.

Ukrainian civilians

The journalists move through the city which is under constant aerial bombardment; there is no moment without an airplane in the air. They hide in half-destroyed buildings, trying to avoid falling debris, and in the later days, Russian troops and snipers. With the city’s electronic infrastructure nearly destroyed, they search for a strong enough Internet signal to transfer their reports and footage to the outside world. Without it, they fear that no one will really understand what is happening. They also know that they face death or imprisonment if caught and that their reporting may be discredited by the Russians.

This film is a tough watch, but a necessary watch. These kinds of things are still happening in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. A particularly distressing sequence covers the evacuation of a maternity hospital. Pregnant women on stretchers, some with newborns, don’t know where they can be safe. On the outskirts of the city, crews of men dig mass grave trenches, sliding black body bags taken from the hospitals to make room for more patients. Crying children are everywhere. A doctor stands at the bedside of a dead child and demands that his death be told to the world. “Who will return our children to us?” asks another witness. We found no words to answer him.

This film was first seen on PBB’s Frontline series. The full film can now be seen on YouTube here: