20 days in Mariupol: an exceptional documentary on the siege of the Russian army

20 days in Mariupol: an exceptional documentary on the siege of the Russian army

The siege of Mariupol told from the inside by a photojournalist who clings to the truth and will eventually discover that it no longer has any meaning. An unforgettable documentary broadcast this evening on France 5 at 10:15 p.m.

A seasoned war journalist who photographed the battle of Mosul as well as the civil war in Syria, the Ukrainian Mtyslav Tchernov saw the tragedy coming. When the Russian Federation wanted to devour its country, it would first attack Mariupol, a port city of around 500,000 inhabitants, a highly strategic place located on the edge of the Sea of ​​Azov. For him it was obvious. On February 24, 2022 when the invasion was launched, he was there, far from his wife and daughters, armed with a single conviction: “Record, archive, so that there remains a trace”. For 20 days and until Russian tanks entered the city, he worked to bring back images of the besieged city. He has just received a Pulitzer Prize for this and you probably already know some of these photos, like that of this young pregnant woman, in the cold, wrapped in a blanket, her eyes very clear, her face bleeding, a bombed maternity ward behind She.

But Chernov was not content with capturing snapshots to feed the international press, he also filmed the capture of Mariupol, engaged in conversation with its inhabitants, and methodically recorded almost hour by hour the sacking and destruction of this place steeped in history, now buried under rubble. These images, too large to be sent by a meager satellite link, he had to keep them carefully with him in the middle of this war zone. And when he was able to escape he created this incredible object, 20 days in Mariupol, on the border of “embedded” telereporting and artistic gesture at its most visceral, restorative and overwhelming.

He therefore films “to archive, so that there remains a trace”, that’s what keeps him going, that’s what he explains to all the people he meets who ask him to stop filming. film them. And then very quickly he discovers that the Russian government and social networks have pushed this invasion into the field of post-truth. His maternity photo, with the girl with very clear eyes, went around the world: he was accused of having completely staged it. He heads to the hospital to find the mother-to-be, to prove that it’s not a scam, if that can prove anything. He will never find her, dead with her baby a few days earlier, her corpse rests in a mass grave among hundreds of others. And now what remains to be archived? The greatness of this film, traumatic in every way, probably lies in this: in the meeting with this man who is agitated and clings desperately to the truth. He will end up discovering in the middle of his journey that it no longer has any value. However, he will have no other choice but to cling to her.

Completely cut off from the rest of the world (no electricity, no internet, no telephone, nothing), Mariupol, besieged and shelled, is dying in a total absence of information, nothing filters through, missiles are raining down. “But who is bombing us again this time? The Ukrainian government? » asks the haggard residents of a gutted building in Chernov. “Why aren’t the firefighters there to put out the fire?” is surprised by other passers-by who do not know about the ruined barracks. If we hadn’t seen those moments with our own eyes, we would have found it hard to believe. Here they are recorded, archived. The trace will remain lasting.

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