WASHINGTON – The journalists of RFE/RL’s Current Time team are honoring the legacy of the creative trio behind the digital network’s “Unknown Belarus” program with the debut of the posthumously-completed film Vladimir Mikhailovski, Maksim Gavrilenko, and Lyubov Zemtsova were working on when they were fatally injured in a car crash on May 14, 2020.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “The deaths of these three young, brilliant filmmakers last year shook RFE/RL’s staff to the core. There is no better way to honor our colleagues and their commitment to celebrating the best of the Belarusian nation they loved than Current Time’s decision to complete their film, which honors the humanity and civic spirit of the volunteers of #BYCOVID19, who stepped up and acted when their government refused.”
The film, “Volunteers,” completed by director Yuliya Shatun, tells the story of #BYCOVID19, a spontaneous, volunteer initiative to help doctors in Belarus struggling to contain the pandemic that was ravaging Belarus, even as Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka was minimizing the severity of the outbreak. Thanks to #BYCOVID19, doctors were able to request online personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needed supplies that Belarusian government could not provide them. In the first three months of the pandemic, #BYCOVID19 raised $335,000 in donations from ordinary Belarusians, and delivered 450,000 items of PPE and 1,500 pieces of medical equipment to hospitals across the country.
Mikhailovski, Gavrilenko, and Zemtsova were returning to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, late on May 14 after a day-long video shoot for the “Volunteers” project in the southeastern city of Homel, when the car they were in was struck head-on by another vehicle. Mikhailovski, Gavrilenko and the driver of the car that struck them died that same day, while Zemtsova succumbed to her injuries eight days later, on May 22.
“Unknown Belarus,” a documentary series designed to shatter stereotypes about the country often referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship” and show the “amazing people, unusual places, and interesting phenomena that make Belarus unique,” debuted on Current Time on February 14, 2020. Four episodes had aired before the deaths of Mikhailovski, Gavrilenko, and Zemtsova; all four episodes were reprised on Current Time in the days prior to the May 14 premiere of “Volunteers.”
Current Time is a 24/7 Russian-language digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. In addition to reporting uncensored news, it is the largest provider of independent, Russian-language films to its audiences. Despite rising pressure on Current Time from the Russian government, which has designated the network a media “foreign agent,” Current Time videos were viewed more than 1.5 billion times in the 12-month period ending in September 2020 on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram/IGTV, and the largest Russian digital platforms VKontakte and Yandex.Zen.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
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