“20 Days in Mariupol”

And the Putin Republicans

For students of humanity (and the inhumanity of war) “20 Days in Mariupol,” last Sunday’s Documentary Film Oscar winner, is a must watch. (It is available to stream on YouTube here and on PBS/Frontline here [the latter may require a highly recommended subscription to your local public television station].) Strap yourself in. This is not a piece of fictionalized history. It is the raw reality for civilians and those trying desperately to hold things together on the ground in Mariupol in February-March 2022. The time was the beginning of the still-ongoing, Putin-driven, Russian war of conquest of Ukraine. It is totally heart-rending. This type of journalism is the reason that some want people kept in the dark about the realities of life in war.

Strikingly, Mariupol was a modern city, a complex built environment, a port city, that was home to nearly a half a million people, a city not unlike many an American city. Thanks to Vladimir Putin’s warped ambition for empire, all that was Mariupol now lies in ruins—along with the hopes and dreams of its former inhabitants. That men like Putin and Hitler can convince themselves of whatever they use to justify what you see in this documentary totally escapes me.

It is no wonder that the Russian propaganda machine went into high gear accusing this documentary and the TV footage that preceded it of “fake news” staged by “crisis actors.” That similar claims appear on the lips of Putin’s allies here in the U.S. should surprise no one. “20 Days in Mariupol” is a vivid reminder of the importance of a free press—and the need to pay attention to the source of what you are being fed by the media you consume. Putin cannot afford to have real life images of his war of conquest in Ukraine revealed to the Russian people, lest they see themselves in the misery of the Ukrainians. 

Meanwhile, back here in the U.S. it seems like the war in Ukraine almost dropped out of the news, overwhelmed by the Oscars themselves, the presidential primary process, and the coverage of war in Gaza. “20 Days in Mariupol” is a vivid reminder of the toll not only of Putin’s grinding, horrific, unjustified war of conquest in Ukraine, but also a reminder of one presidential candidate’s fawning admiration for Putin and Putin’s authoritarian grip on Russia. We should also be reminded of that candidate’s Republican minions in the U.S. House who have for months, voting as a block under the leadership of Mike Johnson, choked off funding for Ukraine, leaving Ukrainian soldiers short on ammunition. 

I used to lean Republican. In recent decades, as the Republican Party was taken over by the ‘Christian Right’ I considered myself an independent. Now, as the leader of the Republican Party looks up to men like Putin and works to purge all those from his party who voice the slightest disagreement, the Republican label is electoral poison to me at all levels of government. 

Watch “20 Days in Mariupol,” and contemplate the plight of humanity under deranged autocrats.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I am indebted to Petra Hoy for alerting me to the writing of Teri Kanefield. Her post “Why Some Prefer Oligarchy and (🎶 What’s Russia got to do, got to do with it? 🎶).” You can read it here. Kanefield does a terrific and well-referenced job of explaining how the Republican Party came to be an ally of Putin and Putin’s vision of Russia. 

P.P.S. Russia under Putin is something very different than the vision of the U.S.S.R. that I was raised on in school in the 1960s. The U.S.S.R. was posed as a nation of atheists in which Christian believers were relentlessly persecuted and abortion was supposedly the primary method of birth control. The U.S.S.R. was depicted as a totalitarian state like the state profiled in George Orwell’s “1984.” The U.S.S.R. carried the label of “communist” but it bore only a passing resemblance to the state that Karl Marx wrote about. (In spite of that disconnection, “communism” and “socialism” were still vilified and somehow intertwined with the U.S.S.R.) 

Weirdly, the Russia that has emerged today is still labelled in the minds of many as an evil “communist” or “socialist” state, when, in fact, Russia has become an oligarchic theocracy. Putin has revived Russian Orthodox Church as the pre-eminent spiritual authority. No atheists need be tolerated. Under Putin, church and state are once again fused as they were under the czar, abortion is illegal, homophobia is the standard, gay marriage is unthinkable, and media are controlled by the state. (Note how all this aligns with what the Christian Nationalists of the Republican Party are preaching.)