Opinion | On the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion, can Hollywood keep Ukraine in our hearts and minds?

One of Sean Penn’s Oscars is in Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s bunker.

The actor visited the president of Ukraine last year and left the statue behind with a cheeky and inspirational condition: “When you win, bring it back to Malibu.”

Penn is not the only star to take an active interest in the black hole of misery that swallowed Ukraine a year ago this week when Vladimir Putin, Russia’s sociopath-in-chief, invaded a sovereign neighbour with imperial and murderous ambitions.

Other celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Ben Stiller, Liev Schreiber and Jessica Chastain, have made the trek to Kyiv in a show of support. Penn was on the ground shooting a documentary, “Superpower,” before the shells started flying last Feb. 24. The film premiered a few days ago at the Berlin Film Festival to a standing ovation.

But can Hollywood help keep Ukraine in our hearts and minds?

As the war marks its grim one-year anniversary on Friday, there is a growing sense of fatigue. The longer this conflict rumbles on — and it could still go a long, long time — the harder it will be to hold our attention. That’s the nature of the beast. You can already see the softening of support in public surveys. You can hear it from politicians and pundits who ask why money and weaponry are getting funnelled abroad when there are so many problems here that warrant tackling.

But this war is not binary or abstract. It’s existential. It should matter to us all.

One year after Russia’s barbaric invasion, I honestly don’t get the isolationists and naysayers and glib fiends who ridicule Zelenskyy or talk about the war as if it’s a middling season of “Survivor.” The Kremlin doesn’t need a propaganda machine when dipsticks like Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene parrot its talking points.

Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is shaking his head and weeping into his Ovaltine.

God help Silver Spoon Tuck or Manic Marj should they ever be forced to endure the horrors faced by Ukrainians over the past year. I suspect these right-wing cartoons would have a more enlightened perspective on democracy and freedom if, instead of whining about overcooked eggs benny, they were holed up in Kherson or Mariupol as the air sirens blared, Russian bombs destroyed civilian infrastructure and daily life turned into an unimaginable living hell of hourly crimes against humanity.

A few months ago, there was an unsettling spike in the number of high foreheads who, after possibly sinking into the YouTube quicksand that gives way to conspiratorial rabbit holes, started to rationalize the invasion.

NATO expansionism is to blame! America tricked Russia into rolling tanks across the border to trigger a proxy war of strategic annihilation! George Soros was bankrolling biolabs in Ukraine, including research into an airborne Ebola-rabies that turns the infected into zombie socialists! Putin had no choice but to blow up hospitals, schools and apartment buildings as his troops killed, raped and plundered!

And that’s why Hollywood’s support of Ukraine has never mattered more.

One year later, too many so-called public intellectuals are making noises about détente, without pausing to accept the reality that diplomacy is to Putin as theoretical physics is to Lindsay Lohan. Get real. He’s not interested in peace or negotiations. This delusional monster only cares about conquest, subjugation and inflicting more misery, especially now that his military has been utterly humiliated for 12 months running.

For Putin, it’s the shame of losing an arm-wrestle to Honey Boo Boo.

As we enter the second year of war, celebrities need to pivot. A mere show of support is not enough. They need to get specific about what Ukraine needs. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have raised millions for relief efforts. Kudos. Now they need to use their massive public platforms to call upon Western leaders to accelerate the delivery of lethal and defensive aid. I realize the ridiculous nature of that sentence. But I also realize there is a growing void in the commentariat. And if military and geopolitical experts are increasingly on mute, maybe celebrities can ask why it is taking so long to give Ukraine the weapons they desperately need to survive.

Mark Hamill, Mr. Luke Skywalker, recently set a good example. He’s signing “Star Wars” memorabilia to raise funds for Ukrainian drones. Other A-list celebrities should follow his lead. Ben Stiller should turn his attention to F-16 fighter jets. Richard Gere should become an ambassador for the export of M1 Abrams tanks. U2’s Bono and the Edge, who played a concert in a Kyiv subway station in May, should leverage their Rolodex of world leaders to speed up the transfer of air defence systems, including the HIMARS. Gal Gadot should be demanding Israel give Ukraine the Iron Dome.

A year ago, the experts predicted Ukraine would fall to Russia in 48 hours. But the country, to quote Joe Biden this week, is still standing. It is still fighting for its independence. It is still holding off evil as the rest of us go about our lives.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former comedian and actor, understands the power of pop culture. It’s why he delivers speeches to award shows, including the Grammys. Or film festivals, including this weekend in Berlin. And it’s why Andrii Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, wrote an open letter thanking celebrities in the spring.

The Ukraine war officially enters its second year on Friday.

Celebrities need to be ready for the new battles ahead.

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