Actor Sean Penn, who is in Ukraine working on a film documentary, is encouraging the U.S. to come to the rescue of the embattled country, which is fighting to preserve its democracy amid a devastating invasion from neighboring Russia.
“Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams. If we allow it to fight alone, our soul as America is lost,” Penn wrote in a Twitter message Saturday.
The Oscar-winning actor, film director and social activist visited the Eastern European country in November, according to a Facebook post by the Office of the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Penn returned to Ukraine in recent days as Russian troops invaded the country, where there have been heavy losses. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine earlier this week.
On Saturday, Russian troops advanced on the capital city of Kyiv as Ukrainian forces struggled to hold on to the city. Witnesses reported sporadic explosions and gunfire in parts of the city, and an apartment tower took a direct hit from a shell.
Although Western countries are not sending troops into Ukraine to aid its defense, several countries have been providing weaponry and other equipment to Ukraine. Zelensky has pleaded for more help from Western leaders.
“Already a brutal mistake of lives taken and hearts broken, and if he doesn’t relent, I believe Mr. Putin will have made a most horrible mistake for all of humankind,” Penn wrote on Twitter. “President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle.”
According to the Ukrainian Facebook post, Penn has attended press briefings, visited with Ukrainian troops, met with Ukrainian journalists and Zelensky, who, like Penn, has his roots in the entertainment business.
Variety reported that Penn’s documentary film project is being produced through Vice Studios.
Penn has a long history of social activism and tackling dangerous, high-profile projects.
His nonprofit group CORE played a central role in expanding Los Angeles’ COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites last year, including at Dodger Stadium. It also helped with COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaigns.
The actor created a sensation with his 2016 Rolling Stone interview of Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo.” Some later speculated that Penn’s interview with Guzman may have helped Mexican authorities recapture the then-fugitive after Guzman had escaped from prison.
Penn later told then-CBS newsman Charlie Rose that his El Chapo interview was a failure. Penn said he went into the project hoping that his article would inspire a national discussion about the war on drugs.
Penn also filmed a documentary about his humanitarian work in Haiti following that country’s 2010 earthquake.
It was unclear Saturday what stage Penn’s documentary on the Ukraine conflict was in, or when the project might air.
But this much is clear: Penn is not alone in his disappointment over the the lack of Western involvement in the conflict to support Ukraine.
“America isn’t here. The European Union isn’t here,” a 24-year-old hotel employee in Kharkiv, Ukraine, named Alexander (he declined to give his last name) told a Los Angeles Times reporter in Ukraine. “So we’re fighting on our own.”
The Facebook post by the President’s Office echoed that same sentiment.
“Sean Penn demonstrates the courage that many others, including Western politicians, lack,” according to a translation of the Ukrainian president’s Facebook post.
The message added that the country needed more people like Penn who were “true friends of Ukraine, who support the struggle for freedom” so that it could stop the Russian advance.