HKS Affiliated Authors

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy

The Carr Center recently hosted a film screening of the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol as part of our “Human Rights in Film” series, which uses film to explore the human rights challenges faced by individuals around the world.

20 Days in Mariupol shows a team of Ukrainian Associated Press journalists who are trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol as they struggle to continue their work documenting the atrocities of the first 20 days of the Russian invasion. As the only international reporters who remain in the city, they capture what later became defining images of the war: dying children, mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital, and more.

Created by Mstyslav Chernov, 20 Days in Mariupol draws on Chernov’s daily news dispatches and personal footage of his own country at war. It offers a vivid, harrowing account of civilians caught in the siege, as well as a window into what it’s like to report from a conflict zone and the impact of such journalism around the globe.

After the screening, Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse was joined by Alina Beskrovna, a Mariupol resident and eyewitness who is now an MPA/ID candidate at Harvard Kennedy School. Together, they discussed Beskrovna’s experience in Mariupol during the initial weeks of the Russian invasion that began on February 24, 2022, and has now gone on for two years.

“My logistics during the war were really complicated; it is difficult to explain to someone who did not grow up in the post-Soviet reality. I lived in a very typical Soviet cement apartment block that we called khrushchevka. It was five stories, and one particular type of khrushchevka has a semi-basement, but it’s not livable. They are also not designed to be bomb shelters, because once the building above you collapses … that’s where you stay, it’s very difficult to get out, and you might be smashed with the weight of the structure that falls upon you,” said Beskrovna. “The city was not prepared and did not have the capability for civilians to survive—we did not have underground structures like the subway in Kiev.”

Before the war began, Beskrovna was working full time with a startup called 1991 Mariupol, but in her spare time, she was helping foreign journalists who came to the city 2–3 weeks before the invasion and found themselves without any ability to communicate with the locals. As the invasion started, Beskrovna found herself without a way of escape. “I did not know how long this would take, there was no way to get out anymore, [and] I didn’t have a car, so I needed to find a place where, for the foreseeable future, it was possible to exist somewhere underground,” she said.

So, she made a call to the man who was working as a driver for the journalists—who was also the father of her high school friend—and asked to be taken in, along with her mother and her three cats. “He lived on the other side of the city. Not the best location from a strategic point, because it was between the airport that was bombed at 5:30am the morning of [February] 24th, and the port,” she said. “But it was a newer project, a Yugoslavian cottage kind of development, and they had an actual basement. It was still not a bomb shelter, but it would stand up.” Her friend’s father agreed, and picked up Beskrovna, her mother, and her three cats the morning the war began, along with the only belongings they could bring: one backpack of clothing, and one backpack of their documents. They spent the next four weeks in that basement, sheltering from the invasion.

Her experience during her time spent sheltering was harrowing. “They would come and randomly drop a bomb on a building and come back, every morning,” said Beskrovna. “And every morning you’re lying there completely exhausted, freezing, [wearing] jackets and boots, and thinking ‘is it for me, or is it not for me?’ And at one point, you just stop caring, because there’s not much you can change. You [begin to think] ‘if it’s for me, it’s fine—I’m not going to get up.’”

To hear more of Beskrovna’s story, you can view her interview with the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on their YouTube channel, or a second interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN. The full documentary of 20 Days in Mariupol is available to watch via Frontline PBS. ∎

To learn about upcoming film screenings in the Carr Center’s Human Rights in Film series, view our events listing here.