EXCLUSIVE: Russia’s nearly year-long war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 civilians, including 438 children, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. But the impact of the invasion goes much further than those numbers, of course – the bloodshed has sent more than five million Ukrainians fleeing across the Polish border, reportedly half of them teenagers or younger.
Those traumatized Ukrainian teens are the focus of the new documentary Don’t Leave Me Behind: Stories of Young Ukrainian Survival, which will premiere on MTV on February 21, just days before the war’s one-year anniversary. MTV is airing the film commercial-free.
“Filmmaker Nathaniel Lezra brings viewers just miles from the Ukraine-Poland border,” MTV said in a statement about the documentary, “where he chronicles the lives of Ukrainian teenage refugees as they process the unimaginable trauma of being displaced from their country and separated from their fathers fighting the war at home.”
A pair of teens occupy the foreground in Lezra’s film – 18-year-old Oleksandra “Sasha” Kunitska and 15-year-old Daria “Dasha” Unger, “as they try to find normalcy in Poland – through volunteering work, mental health support, family and friendships – while maintaining hope for their families left behind, home country and their own futures.” A third central character, Ukrainian psychologist Ekaterina “Katya” Trofimenko, oversees a therapy group in which Dasha and other youths participate.
“As the world marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, we sought to shine a light on the enormity of the human impact of this war, particularly among the millions of young people who have fled their country,” noted Nina L. Diaz, president of content and chief creative officer, Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios. “It’s an honor to share their stories, and through the thoughtful lens of Nathaniel Lezra, show their extraordinary resilience in addressing their mental health, supporting their loved ones and finding hope for their futures.”
In addition, MTV is partnering with Choose Love “to empower viewers to support young people who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.” Viewers are invited to learn more and take action by visiting ukraine.mtv.com.
“The film seeks to direct the world’s attention to a group of people too often lost in this war’s coverage – young refugees,” Lezra observed in a statement. “These are people who have spent much of their lives living in the shadow of war, and whose identities and mental landscapes have been indelibly impacted by Russia’s aggression. It was the honor of a lifetime to spend time with these inspiring and extraordinarily resilient young people and I’m grateful to MTV for their partnership and shared commitment to telling their stories and encouraging more action to support them.”
Don’t Leave Me Behind: Stories of Young Ukrainian Survival is executive produced by Nina L. Diaz, Lily Neumeyer, Benjamin Hurvitz and Pamela A. Aguilar for MTV. Nathaniel Lezra directs and executive produces; Elizaveta Goroshnikova serves as creative producer, with Iuliia Stashevska as story producer, and Malcolm Bird as executive producer. The film’s logo was designed by Kateryna Gaidamaka, a designer and visual artist from Kyiv.