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New documentary shows Ukrainians' fight for survival, devastation of war
John Yang: As Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, more than 100,000 Ukrainian troops have died and at least 8 million people are living as refugees elsewhere in Europe. French philosopher, writer and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Levy has made numerous trips to Ukraine and spoke with Ali Rogin about his latest documentary Slava Ukraini.
Ali Rogin: This is Bernard-Henri Levy's second documentary on Ukraine since the full scale invasion began in February of last year. It takes place over four months at the end of 2022 and spans 15 cities from the capital city, Kyiv, to Kharkiv in the northeast, to then newly liberated port city of Kherson.
And Slava Ukraini, Levy takes viewers to the front lines and barren city centers to bear witness to the spirit of Ukraine's defenders and its people.
He joins me now from New York, Bernard-Henri Levy, thank you so much again for joining us. In the last few years, you've told stories from all sorts of conflict zones, from Nigeria to Somalia to Bangladesh. This is your second now documentary on Ukraine. Why return to Ukraine?
Bernard-Henri Levy, Filmmaker, "Slava Ukraini": Because it's the most important, crucial, tragic war of our times. Our destiny is really at stake here. When I made some documentaries about other wars, it was often forgotten wars. I mean that at this time, I made a film because I thought that nobody was talking about it and that it was unfair.
But the outcome of the war would not change a lot to the order of the world. This time it is the opposite. The outcome of the war will have huge consequences on the whole world, on our whole destiny in Ukraine, but also in the west, in Europe, but also in America. This is a world war, Ali, a world war, which could become a real hot world war if we are not able to stop the one who created it with Vladimir Putin and his entourage.
Ali Rogin: What do you want people who watch this film to take away from it?
Bernard-Henri Levy: What I want is, first of all, to see scenes, moments which they did not see elsewhere. 100 percent of those images which will be seen in value theaters in America were not seen anywhere else. We did it. We made them with the help, of course, of the Ukrainian forces who gave us, my team and myself, some exclusive accesses and so on. So this is the first thing.
Second, I want people to take out of that, to take away a sense of this incredible spirit, bravery, courage which we thought could have disappeared from our mental landscape, but that are here in Ukraine, embedded in the minds and in the bodies, in the flesh and blood of these ladies, of these boys and gentlemen who fight for Ukraine on the front line, in the trenches where I had the privilege to be admitted at their side.
Ali Rogin: And you've had incredible access. You've been on the front lines with many of these commanders and leaders multiple times. You've really gotten to know them. In this film takes us inside their units, including my favorite was the Mozart group, which is a response to Russia's mercenary Wagner group.
But I want to know, in the time that you've gotten to know these people, how has this war changed them? How are they different from when you first met them? On a basic human level, how are they doing?
Bernard-Henri Levy: At the end of the film, there is a song written by Slavabakatuk (ph) whose title is we Will Never Be the Same Again. This is what happens to all the Ukrainians whom I met since 14 months. They are different persons. They have crossed this tragedy. Some of them not dead, wounded, crippled. Some of them, of course, OK, but deeply changed with a sense of tragedy which they did not have before, with maybe the death in themselves of a lightness of frivolity, maybe of happiness. It's a different people, and myself after that, after Bakhmut, after Kherson, after Lehman, I would not say I'm completely the same.
Ali Rogin: At the end of this film, you conclude by asking, how will this end? Do you think we're any closer to knowing the answer to that question?
Bernard-Henri Levy: I think since the beginning, that Ukraine will win. Ukraine will win for one simple reason because she knows Ukraine. Why? They combat. This is the key. When why you combat for your family, for your fatherland, and for some values of Europe. When you fight like a Mafiazo, like a gangster with Putin, and when you fight as a citizenship behind Zelenskyy, it is night and day.
So I always thought that the only question mark is when will the victory happen? When will the Russian army and people will admit that they have to capitulate. This is question mark, but it depends on us, you American people, us European people. If we decide to provide the necessary weapons and if we stop to do it in this crazy, incremental way, which we got since the beginning, drop after drop, if you decide to deliver the weapons massively, then the nightmare will end quickly.
The war will stop soon and we will spare a lot of human lives. This is in our hands.
Ali Rogin: Powerful words to end with the film is Slava Ukraini and the filmmaker is Bernard-Henri Levy. Thank you so much for joining us.
Bernard-Henri Levy: Thank you, Ali. Thanks so much.