Actor and activist Sean Penn, who is on the ground in Ukraine filming a documentary on the invasion, denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for what the American filmmaker called “a most horrible mistake for all of humankind.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, Penn on Saturday praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy while acknowledging the destruction caused by Putin in the days since Russia launched broad attacks throughout Ukraine.

“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 said. “President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle.”

He added, “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, who previously visited the country last November to prepare for the film, appeared at a Thursday press briefing from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv. The Ukrainian Embassy confirmed in a statement this week that Penn was in the country, and celebrated him and his support.

“Sean Penn is demonstrating bravery that many others have been lacking, in particular some Western politicians,” the statement reads. “The more people like that – true friends of Ukraine, who support the fight for freedom – the quicker we can stop this heinous invasion by Russia.”

Zelensky also shared an Instagram story of himself and Penn talking, according to CBS News, which posted a screenshot from Zelenskyy’s official account showing the two men seated across from each other in boots and T-shirts.

Variety reported Thursday that Penn is filming the documentary for Vice Studios. Vice could not be reached immediately for comment.

A Washington Post reporter approached Penn at the breakfast buffet at a hotel in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, on Saturday, but he did not want to talk.

Penn is known for his political activism and humanitarian work around the world. He was involved in relief work after Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and major floods in Pakistan in 2012.

The actor told CNN in 2011 that his antiwar stance grew out of watching the Vietnam War play out on television with his brothers as a child. “I grew up in a family that was opposed to [the war],” he said.

Penn’s penchant for dropping into global hotspots has drawn criticism from some corners. A vociferous critic of George W. Bush’s administration and the Iraq War, Penn traveled to Iraq ahead of the U.S. invasion to protest Bush’s planned military strike, for which he received a torrent of condemnation in American media.

Penn was also known as a friend and defender of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. In 2015, the actor flew to Mexico to interview drug lord Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo.” Penn wrote a dispatch about the visit for Rolling Stone. Then-president Barack Obama’s chief of staff described Guzmán’s account of his drug trafficking activities as “maddening,” and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called Penn’s interview “grotesque.”

Penn said he had “terrible regret” after the publication of his piece, saying “my article failed.” Mexican authorities captured Guzmán after his meeting with Penn, which officials said tipped them off to his location. Penn called that a “myth.”


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