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Ukrainian couple in Park City makes Sundance connection with film '20 Days in Mariupol'

From left to right: Lena Kreider, Mystyslav Chernov and Zheyna Kreider meet for the first time at the reception of Chernov’s film “20 Days in Mariupol.”

Ukrainian refugees who came to Park City with the help of a local family had a chance to meet the filmmakers of a Sundance documentary chronicling the first days of the Ukrainian conflict.

The Sundance Film Festival is, among other things, a great connector. People from all over the world get to Park City in a feverish, nonstop storytelling frenzy. Amid the thousands of people visiting this week, a poignant and powerful connection happened among a group of Ukrainians.

Erika Howard is director of impact strategy and external relations for PBS’ long running news program "Frontline." She attended this year’s Sundance to represent the documentary “20 Days in Mariupol.”

She said she was looking at early press coverage of the film when she came across a KPCW article about how a local family is sponsoring a Ukrainian couple named Lena and Zheyna Kreider in Park City.

“And it was incredibly inspiring to hear just how locally, folks had really sort of answered the call to embrace refugees from Ukraine who are coming over and just needed that helping hand to get, you know, restarted and to rebuild their lives," Howard said.

The crew who made "20 Days in Mariupol" talks to the audience at the film's premier at the Egyptian Theatre.
Parker Malatesta
The crew who made "20 Days in Mariupol" talks to the audience at the film's premier at the Egyptian Theatre.

That sparked an idea in Howard. She decided to invite the Kreiders to be a part of the festival. They attended a screening and reception for “20 Days in Mariupol” and met the director.

Afterward, the Kreiders said watching the documentary was much harder than they thought it was going to be and brought up a lot of emotions.

“I think all people should watch this movie," Zheyna Kreider said. "That's really hard. But that's important for understand what's happening right now in Ukraine. And I can't believe that just 20 days, just the first 20 days of war, you know?”

Lena Kreider said not much has changed since the first 20 days of war.

“Now we have more than 300 days of war and this happened and happens every day and still happening and this is so bad. And we're really grateful to Sundance because Sundance shows this movie and our director can show truth to the world," Lena Kreider said.

Mystyslav Chernov is a Ukrainian photographer and war correspondent. He directed “20 Days in Mariupol.” He said meeting the Kreiders was bittersweet.

“Yeah, it was so great to meet Ukrainians here. This is so unexpected. And actually, there are more Ukrainians coming to every screening. And yesterday, there were even some Ukrainians with a Ukrainian flag. And it was so heartwarming, but also, you could see that they feel the tragedy, and that they are sad and angry, but at the same time, happy that their stories are being told," Chernov said.

Chernov said the conflict keeps repeating itself where cities such as Mariupol are being erased and more refugees are fleeing Ukraine. He said he wants the film to act as a historical record and more.

“I hope so, that for this lovely couple we speak about, I hope that as painful as it is, for them to watch this film, it will be also kind of a cure at the same time, because they know that it has been recorded and their suffering is not, will not will just vanish.”

Chernov said he has found a profound peace in the mountains of Park City.

“It’s like a cure for the soul. I would like to come back here after the war is over, just to be in the mountains. Maybe in the summer, maybe in a winter, doesn't really matter. But it seems that these mountains can, you know, they like above all the human suffering. They just they are just there”

Find out more on “20 Days in Mariupol” and resources to help Ukrainian refugees here.

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