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'20 Days in Mariupol' director excoriates Russia in Oscars acceptance speech

"I wish to be able to exchange this for Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities," Mstyslav Chernov said, clutching his Oscar.
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The director of a film about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, accepting the Academy Award for best documentary feature on Sunday night, forcefully condemned Moscow in one of the most powerful speeches of the ceremony.

Mstyslav Chernov, the director behind the Oscar-winning feature "20 Days in Mariupol," told the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles that he wished there had never been a reason to make the film in the first place.

"I wish to be able to exchange this for Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities," Chernov said, speaking deliberately and clutching his Oscar statuette. "I wish to give all the recognition to Russia not killing tens of thousands of my fellow Ukrainians. I wish for them to release all the hostages, all the soldiers who are protecting the land, all the civilians who are now in their jails."

"But I cannot change the history," Chernov added. "I cannot change the past."

"20 Days in Mariupol" is Chernov's harrowing first-person chronicle of the time he spent in the besieged Ukrainian city immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion in February 2022.

The film, a joint production of The Associated Press and PBS, drew wide acclaim, earning a place on the National Board of Review's list of the top five documentaries of 2023. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and later screened at the beginning of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Chernov's triumph at the Oscars comes as supplemental military aid to Ukraine remains held up in Congress and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy struggles to hold his defense lines against Moscow's troops.

In his acceptance speech, the director said cinema has the power to inform and shape the future: "We can make sure history record is set straight and that the truth will prevail," he said, adding that "cinema forms memories, and memories form history."

Chernov’s speech appeared to leave the Oscars audience in stunned silence, and it drew immediate attention on social media, where many users praised him for using his platform to draw attention to Ukraine's battle against Russia.

"This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, and I’m honored," Chernov said at the beginning of his speech, visibly emotional.

The other nominees in the best documentary feature category this year were "Bobi Wine: The People's President," "The Eternal Memory," "Four Daughters" and "To Kill a Tiger."