From frontline to Oscars red carpet: Ukrainian producer swaps body armour for black tie

Azad Safarov is a Ukrainian producer working with Sky News journalists in Ukraine. He is also the assistant director and line producer for the Oscar-nominated documentary film 'A House Made Of Splinters'. Here he writes about going from the frontline to the red carpet.

Do you like movies? I do, but sometimes real life is even crazier than the movies.

In just a short space of time I have gone from being on the frontline in Ukraine, to preparing to walk the red carpet at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles. And it's a strange feeling.

I was born into a poor family in Azerbaijan, and because of the war in Nagorny Karabakh and financial problems, my family decided to move to Ukraine. We settled in Donetsk and became Ukrainian citizens.

I was eight years old at the time, and even then, all I wanted to do was make movies. My cousin and I filmed short sketches and dreamt of selling them to Hollywood.

My mother advised me to become a journalist, because she believed it was the most peaceful profession in Ukraine. But no sooner had I graduated from university and moved to Kyiv in 2014, the protests on the Maidan began - and consequently the war.

As a television journalist, I've worked everywhere in Ukraine. Under fire on the frontline, and undercover in the Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine.

My point is, I am much more comfortable in a 12-kilogram bulletproof vest and a helmet than a black-tie tuxedo.

I applied for a special 21-day permit to leave the country when I was told that I was going to the ceremony.

How to watch all the big films nominated for Oscars and BAFTAs

It was granted, and I decided I wanted to wear a sweatshirt or a t-shirt, anything with an inscription or the state coat of arms of Ukraine. But they explained to me that the organisers would simply not let me inside, there is a strict dress code.

'Deprived of the right to be happy'

I've been dreaming of this moment all my life.

I used to watch Oscar ceremonies and imagine winning; I'd imagine how proud my parents, friends and family would be if I ever won the award.

But now the moment has come, and I have a nomination, I can't say it too loudly or be too happy about it.

"Aren't you jumping for joy?! This is the Oscars! That's super cool!" my friends say to me all the time.

I am happy, of course, but the joy is mixed with sadness, because as long as I am here in Los Angeles, on the frontline in Ukraine every day, every hour really, soldiers are dying, protecting our country from our neighbour.

I cannot post funny pictures on social media, because at this very time, millions of Ukrainian civilians are suffering from Russia's aggression and missiles.

It feels like Russia has deprived us of the right to be happy, to be successful, the right to enjoy life, the right to simply laugh out loud.

The consequences of war

Our Oscar-nominated documentary film, A House Made of Splinters, is also about the consequences of the war.

The director is the talented Danish filmmaker Simon Lereng Wilmont who I started working with back in 2015, and this is our second film from Ukraine. The first one, The Distant Barking of Dogs, made the Oscar shortlist in 2019.

A House Made of Splinters is about children growing up in a temporary shelter next to the war. It is sad, but at the same time, it is a film about hope. It's about how Ukrainian children fight for their own happiness, childhood, and the right to live in a family and feel love, even while the war rages on.

It's an important story to tell, and we have an important mission that goes beyond.

I co-founded the NGO, the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation, with the documentary's consultant and human rights activist Olena Rozvadovska, and after the Russian invasion, we helped thousands of children, and their families evacuate from the frontline. But the needs are only growing.

The entire production team understands that we are competing with big companies and big names at the Oscars, with big budgets for advertising their nominees.

But to win would be incredible, in these dark times we want to give at least one small piece of joy to the country, which has been fighting for freedom and the happiness of being free for so long.

And with this in mind, I will go to the ceremony and hope for the best. I will take two things with me: my father's broken watch - he died when I was 13 years old - and a brooch in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

And no, I will not disable the air raid alert app on my phone if there is a notification about it from Ukraine, because to me, the Oscars is one more platform to remind the world about the war.

You can watch the Academy Awards on Sunday 12 March from 11pm exclusively on Sky News and Sky Showcase. And for everything you need to know ahead of the ceremony, don't miss our special Backstage podcast, out now, plus look out for our special episode on the winners from Monday morning.