MTV announced today a new documentary titled Don’t Leave Me Behind: Stories of Young Ukrainian Survival, premiering commercial-free on MTV Tuesday, February 21st at 10PM ET/PT in recognition of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With the invasion triggering a mass exodus of 5.15 million Ukrainian civilians fleeing to Poland – half of them teenagers or younger – filmmaker Nathaniel Lezra brings viewers just miles from the Ukraine-Poland border 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.
“The film directs the world’s attention to a group of people too often lost in this war’s coverage – young refugees.”
Don’t Leave Me Behind: Stories of Young Ukrainian Survival highlights two teenagers Oleksandra “Sasha” Kunitska, 18, and Daria “Dasha” Unger, 15, in their new lives 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.
Sasha, who had dreams of studying dance in Korea before the war, teaches dance classes to refugee children as well as working in a humanitarian center, collecting and distributing resources and working as a translator, among other duties.
Dasha, who shares her harrowing experience of that first morning of the invasion, attends group therapy with other displaced teenagers, many of whom have fathers forced to remain in Ukraine to fight.
Ekaterina “Katya” Trofimenko, 32, who developed and oversees Dasha’s group within the local organization Your Development Foundation, is a Ukrainian psychologist and refugee providing psychosocial support for the waves of teenagers and kids fleeing. Audiences witness how Katya engages with the teenagers, whose own accounts of the extremes of war enable her to process her own experiences.
“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,” said 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.”
“The film seeks to direct the world’s attention to a group of people too often lost in this war’s coverage – young refugees. 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,” said filmmaker Nathaniel Lezra. “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.”
MTV is partnering with Choose Love to empower viewers to support young people who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine. Viewers can learn more and take action by visiting ukraine.mtv.com.
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 serves as the director and executive producer, Elizaveta Goroshnikova serves as creative producer, Iuliia Stashevska serves as story producer, and Malcolm Bird serves as executive producer. The film’s logo was designed by Kateryna Gaidamaka, a designer and visual artist from Kyiv, Ukraine.