November 30th, 2023


Documentary sheds light on Putin's mass murder in Ukraine

Trudy Rubin

By Trudy Rubin Philadelphia Inquirer/(TNS)

Published November 20, 2023

Documentary sheds light on Putin's mass murder in Ukraine


Every U.S. legislator who currently opposes continuing aid to Ukraine should be forced to watch "20 Days in Mariupol," a PBS "Frontline" documentary scheduled to air on Tuesday.

Any American confused about why such aid is crucial for America's security should watch it, too.

The film is directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov; he and an AP colleague were the last two Western journalists left in Mariupol after Russia invaded that port city in February 2022. They barely escaped after 20 days of filming Russia's pulverization of the city, including direct bomb hits on hospitals.

As Americans fixate on video of Hamas' butchery of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians and horrific scenes of Gazans dying from Israeli reprisals, it is easy to forget about Ukraine. But this harrowing film makes clear why Russian President Vladimir Putin is far more threatening to global security than Hamas.

Directly responsible for slaughtering tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol through indiscriminate bombing, Putin has no scruples about mass murder. He is waiting for Donald Trump's MAGA followers in Congress to abandon Kyiv, along with America's global leadership role.

The Party of Putin wing of the GOP plays right into his hands when members insist that money for Israel and the southern border trump helping Ukraine. All are important. But "20 Days in Mariupol" shows why helping Kyiv defeat Putin is more vital than either to U.S. security — and that of its allies.

Chernov made the incredibly courageous choice to stay in Mariupol even though his work was known to the Russians, who probably would have killed him if he had been caught. "What we didn't expect was that we would be the only ones reporting, so we were exposed," he told me.

What he filmed was critical to understanding Russia's intentions for Ukraine, which were to destroy it as a sovereign nation. Keep in mind that Putin's utter destruction of an entire city — and the continued targeting of civilians — was not preceded by any Ukrainian attack. Russia launched an unprovoked war to gobble up a neighboring country.

If the U.S. allows Putin to succeed in Ukraine, it will encourage him to expand his dreams of rebuilding the Russian empire, undermining other European countries, including members of NATO. Down that road lie further wars.

Chernov's gripping footage dispels current Kremlin propaganda about how Mariupol welcomed the Russians. He documents how Moscow deliberately bombed hospital after hospital (just as it did during the Syrian civil war to help its client Bashar al-Assad survive).

One desperate Ukrainian doctor, having failed to save a 4-year-old child, looks directly into the camera and says, "Show this bastard [Putin] the eyes of this child and all these doctors are crying." He then uses an expletive to describe those killing civilians.

In other words, show the work of a cold-blooded Putin who will not hesitate to take global advantage of U.S. weakness and MAGA extremists.

Chernov took the famous video of a very pregnant wounded woman being urgently wheeled across the courtyard from the maternity wing of a Mariupol hospital, a scene that Moscow still insists was played by crisis actors. Chernov and AP reporters followed up on her case and found that she subsequently died from a shattered pelvis. Her baby didn't survive, either. Without the video, there would be no concrete way to dispute Russian lies.

The AP journalists finally had to escape. They did so the day before Russia bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater, full of women and children seeking safety. "There were no pictures, no witnesses," Chernov told me regretfully, as Moscow still claims Ukrainians destroyed the theater. "This gives you an idea of how important journalists are on the ground."

The siege of Mariupol lasted for months after the AP team left the city.

"Every day was just like these videos," Chernov told me, as Russia continued to destroy towns and villages. Only 40 minutes of his footage was published by the AP, despite "hundreds of thousands of war crimes in Mariupol," he said.

"I knew how important the story was. The world moves on, and the only way to preserve that scale is to do more," Chernov said. "I hope the film gains attention for what has already happened and what is happening now."

Which brings us back to Putin's "useful idiots" in the U.S. Congress. Are they so blind that they cannot see the link between Putin's Mideast machinations and his savagery in Ukraine?

The Russian leader is receiving Iranian drones to use against Ukraine, and in exchange reportedly helping Tehran with nuclear technology. Moscow has long welcomed Hamas leaders and backed its propaganda in an effort to internationally isolate the U.S.

Israel can fight Hamas without more immediate military assistance, and the mess at the U.S. southern border can only be addressed with bipartisan cooperation. But Ukraine's last chance to regain the offensive against Putin is now.

Congress must not cave to a global terrorist who threatens America far more than Hamas does. Watch "20 Days in Mariupol" and you will see why.


Trudy Rubin
Philadelphia Inquirer


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Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.