This week Ukrainians scored their first-ever Oscar for the documentary “20 Days in Mariupol” telling the story of journalists covering events in the besieged city in the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion. While this was a high point and a bright spot for Ukrainian filmmakers, Ukrainians haven’t always had such luck in Hollywood.  

Another Oscar-winner, director Oliver Stone, produced and starred in a film that may as well have been written by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine-born, US-based film producer Ihor Lopatonok teamed up with Stone on two projects to show off his “heroes” – Putin and ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

With Stone’s help, the Lopatonok-produced films “Ukraine on Fire” and “Revealing Ukraine” gained the sheen of legitimacy. In the films, Stone conducts personal interviews with Putin and Yanukovych – throwing the authoritarians a series of softball questions reminiscent of last month’s Tucker Carlson interview with Putin.

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In “Ukraine on Fire” (2016), Lopatonok and Stone spread the Kremlin’s false narrative that a Russian-backed separatists’ uprising in the Donbas region was the result of a Nazi regime in Kyiv and its persecution of the Russian-speaking population – never mind that Russian is widely spoken not just in the east but also in the capital Kyiv, the southern port city Odesa, and many other parts of Ukraine.

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When Moscow annexed Crimea and its military intervention of Donbas in March 2014 Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury as an individual involved in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.   

The film’s preview describes the popular uprising of the Ukrainian people against Yanukovych – who was accused of corruption and being a puppet of the Kremlin – as: “the violent overthrow of democratically elected [president] Yanukovych” and “a coup d'état, scripted and staged by nationalist groups and the US State Department.”

In 2019, Lopatonok and Stone paired up again for “Revealing Ukraine,” which continued in the same vein as its predecessor. It portrays Putin-ally and close friend Viktor Medvedchuk, who had regularly described himself as the “opposition leader” in Ukraine.

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When Moscow annexed Crimea and its military intervention of Donbas in March 2014 Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury as an individual involved in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.   

He was later arrested on charges of attempting to collaborate with Moscow in Kyiv’s overthrow during the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of February 2022.

Medvedchuk was then part of prisoner exchange with Russia a few months later.

Medvedchuk played a key role throughout his entire career in the Kremlin’s propaganda operations in Ukraine, having control over some of the biggest television stations in Ukraine including NewsOne, 112-Ukraine and Zik – all of which were later banned by the National Security and Defense Council following evidence that they were being used as part of a Kremlin-based disinformation campaign.

Naturally, Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko, were present at the premiere of “Revealing Ukraine” at the 65th Taormina Film Fest in Italy in July 2023, along with film stars like Nicole Kidman and Justin Hoffman. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists found that Medvedchuk had, after all, been involved in bankrolling “Revealing Ukraine.

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The summary for the official trailer of the films reads: “How is it possible that such a troubled third world country as present Ukraine successfully meddled in the presidential election of 2016 in such a superpower as the USA?”

As a New York Times report revealed in a story published in 2019, this was a narrative that American intelligence officials later found to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

OCCRP’s investigators, working with the independent Kazakh media site Vlast.kz, got hold of “dozens of documents” – including private emails – that show that Lopatonok planned to involve Stone in more fawning documentaries – about the authoritarian leaders of Belarus and Azerbaijan.

 “It’s unclear from the documents — which include internal emails and film synopses as well as pitch brochures — whether Stone was on board with Lopatonok’s plans this time around, or even aware of most of them. None of the projects has come to fruition,” the OCCPR journalists say. 

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The emails suggest that Stone had plans to participate in at least one of the projects – the Lukashenko film — before Russia’s 2022 invasion.

After that, Stone, who has called Putin “a great leader for his country” reportedly put a stop to his involvement. Stone then spoke out publicly against the war in March this year, saying that Russia had been “wrong” to invade — although he also argued that Putin had been “baited” into the decision by the United States.

Meanwhile, according to the OCCRP article, Stone was fully aware of Lopatonok’s plans.

There’s no word yet on what’s since become of what looked to be Lopatonok’s most ambitious project yet, “The War.”

There’s no word yet on what’s since become of what looked to be Lopatonok’s most ambitious project yet, “The War.”

The OCCRP investigation found that “The War” promised a sympathetic appraisal of Russian heroism along the Eastern Front in World War II — a topic Putin is known to be obsessed with — one which was to be narrated by Hollywood star Hugh Grant and which Lopatonok hoped to have produced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson.

The goal of the World War II film, according to the pitch, was to convey the “truth” about Russia’s role in the war to an international audience, while avoiding the appearance of any official links to Russia.

Grant did not respond to the OCCRP’s requests for comment, but Jackson, through his agent, said that he had never heard of the project and that his name had been used without his permission.

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“I find it distressing to have my name and reputation stolen like this, and I’ve put it in the hands of my lawyer,” Jackson reportedly said.

Russia continues to use WWII as inspiration in its propaganda – framing its invasion and genocidal actions in Ukraine as “de-nazification.”

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Comments ( 1)

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Jack
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

I actually met Lopatonok in Los Angeles some 15 or so years ago. A typical crook. He is from Ukraine, I believe Donetsk region. When I met him at one of the Hollywood's parties, he came to me (someone told him I spoke Ukrainian, even though he spoke Russian), so in the conversation he told me how proud he was when he and his buddy established a Bank where they took deposits and then Bankrupted, - how easy money they made! I will never forget this story. He thought - this is a proud moment for him to brag on, assuming I'm in the same "culture code". He is a typical crook. And then later he moved to LA, got a green card with his wife, and took projects from Moscow to color black and white soviet films - all financed by Russian government. He was mingling in LA - trying to get into Hollywood crowd, still trying I guess. I haven't spoken to him in 10 years, - but this article doesn't surprise me. As for Oliver Stone - his son is a point of contact, also a Putin sympathiser, easy to get a hold of.

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