Ukraine-Russia War: Breaking News – The New York Times
KYIV, Ukraine — He spoke to two movie stars via video call from the bombed-out and surrounded city of Kyiv.
His aides lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a night in support of the Oscars. He re-released his own TV show on Netflix in the middle of the war.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor-turned-wartime leader of Ukraine, has devoted most of his public appearances to appeals to Western nations for lethal weapons to fight the Russians: tanks, jets and missiles.
But Mr Zelensky, who before becoming president had starred in romantic comedies and performed stand-up routines, has also lobbied for celebrities and entertainers to speak out for his country, in what aides say is an effort commendable for solidifying Ukraine’s global soft power advantage over Russia.
“We live in the modern world and we know that opinion makers and celebrities are important,” said Ekaterine Zguladze, a former deputy interior minister now involved in the Ukrainian government’s efforts to win public support. artists, musicians and celebrities. “It’s not just politicians who shape the world.”
Ms. Zguladze added: “Right now, there is real solidarity around the world for Ukraine. And this solidarity is not due to the heartbreaking images of destroyed cities and human tragedies, but because of the values we all share.
But Ukraine’s appeal to the academy, the organization that awards the Oscars, met its own drama.
Before the show, organizers said the war would be noted and the human toll honored, but did not commit to a video appearance by Mr. Zelensky, said Brian Keith Etheridge, a Los Angeles-based sitcom writer. He helped coordinate Ukrainian government outreach to the academy, with help from Mila Kunis, a Ukrainian-born actress, and her husband, Ashton Kutcher.
“The concern we’ve been told is that they don’t want to politicize the show too much,” Mr Etheridge said. “If Zelensky just says ‘thank you’, it will remind people and it could bring in millions of dollars. It’s such a giant platform just for his face to show.
Sean Penn, who was shooting a documentary in Ukraine when war broke out, called for an Oscars boycott if Mr Zelensky is not allowed to appear on video and vowed to melt his own awards if the academy snubs the Ukrainian leader. The award statues are made of gold-plated bronze.
If the Oscar producers didn’t allow an appearance for “the leaders in Ukraine, who take bullets and bombs for us, and the Ukrainian children they’re trying to protect, then I think each of those people, and every bit of that decision has been the most lewd moment in Hollywood history,” Penn told CNN in an interview.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the producers said they intended to commemorate the war’s toll but did not commit to a video appearance by Mr Zelensky.
“We’re going to be very careful about how we recognize where we are in the world,” Oscars producer Will Packer told a news conference on Thursday.
Comedian actress Wanda Sykes, one of the ceremony’s co-hosts, noted of Mr. Zelensky: “Isn’t he busy right now?”
Mr. Zelensky did not appear on the show. Ms Kunis opened up about the war when she appeared on TV to feature a performance by Reba McEntire of her song from Ms Kunis’ film ‘Four Good Days’.
Before handing the show over to Ms McEntire, Ms Kunis said: ‘Recent world events have left many of us feeling drained.
“Yet when you witness the strength and dignity of those who face such devastation, it is impossible not to be moved by their resilience,” Ms Kunis continued. “One can’t help but be impressed by those who find the strength to keep fighting in unimaginable darkness.”
The show also displayed three screens of gold text on a black background after Ms McEntire’s performance, calling on viewers to donate to the humanitarian effort.
“While cinema is an important way for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is that millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water and emergency services. “, says the message. “Resources are scarce and we, collectively and as a global community, can do more.”
While Mr. Zelensky’s aides had lobbied for support during the show in any form, seeking any means to win public support in the West, the value of celebrity support in a war of shooting is not universally recognized in Ukraine.
“At the end of the day, what happens on the ground matters,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, former secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. “Everyone is doing what they can. I don’t know if another speech by Zelensky will make a difference. But it’s good that those who initiated him want to do it. Everyone wants to help in any way possible.
But Mr Danylyuk said that “at the end of the day, you need results”, such as supplies of fighter jets, tanks or missiles for the Ukrainian army.
Mr. Zelensky has lobbied on all fronts to convey to a wide audience, and in particular to countries that supply arms, the moral imperative to support Ukraine in the war.
“In general, Zelensky really follows Hollywood news and looks for support opportunities,” Serhiy Leshchenko, adviser to the president’s chief of staff, said in an interview.
The push to support Ukraine during the Oscars began a week ago, after Mr Zelensky spoke on a video call from Kyiv with Mr Kutcher and Ms Kunis, to thank the couple for raising 35 million for Ukrainian refugees and humanitarian aid in a GoFundMe campaign, Mr. Leshchenko said.
Ms Kunis recently starred in ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ and has a planned Netflix movie release, ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’.
“Ukrainians are proud and courageous people who deserve our help in these difficult times,” she wrote in the appeal. “This unjust attack on Ukraine and humanity as a whole is devastating and the people of Ukraine need our support.”
After the video call, Mr. Zelensky’s aides searched for a last-minute slot at the Oscars.
Mr. Zelensky has always had a keen sense of image and storytelling in politics. Earlier this month he said he was aware that his repeated televised calls for resistance and his continued presence in the beleaguered capital had made him a symbol of bravery in many countries.
The Oscars are also a natural fit for his government’s appeal for humanitarian aid, as many of his top aides are also film industry veterans.
The head of the presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, was a media lawyer and film producer. The head of the domestic intelligence agency, Ivan Bakanov, had been the director of the Kvartal 95 studio. A chief presidential adviser, Serhiy Shefir, was a screenwriter and producer whose main credits included a hit romantic comedy film, ” Eight First Dates”, and a television series, “The In-laws”.
Before becoming president of Ukraine, Mr Zelensky played a president in his own TV series, “Servant of the People”, which was re-released on Netflix this month. The character, a teacher, is propelled to the presidency after launching a tirade against corruption, filmed by his students in a video that has gone viral.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv and Matt Stevens from New York.