Originally posted on TVP World

KHARKIV, UKRAINE— Something is strange about the promo campaign for the blockbuster indie film The Sound of Freedom, in which Jim Caviezel (Count of Monte Cristo, Passion of the Christ) stars as former government agent Tim Ballard, who saves kids from sex trafficking. The movie has made more than USD 124 million at the box office since its July 4 debut, largely driven by a grassroots conservative audience intrigued by Ballard’s adventures in Columbia.

But in his promotional efforts, the real-life Ballard has been bizarrely casting aspersions on Ukraine rather than on Russia, which has been kidnapping Ukrainian children in occupied territories as more and more evidence shows. Although the UN is shifty and silent, the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for pied-piper Maria Lvova-Belova, Putin’s commissioner for “children’s rights,” accusing her of overseeing the resettling or kidnapping of Ukrainian kids. And the chief of the Belarusian Red Cross boasted about kidnapping Ukrainian kids.

On the same topic, Ballard, who is portrayed on-screen as a heroic warrior for innocent kids, speaks in strange, vague terms: “You have how many hundreds of Ukrainian children crying over the dead bodies of their family and no one to take care of them, and a nice van shows up with blankets and food, and they’re gonna get in,” Ballard tells popular U.S. commentator Jack Posobiec.

“And so we tapped into an organization, a criminal organization, while we were in Ukraine,” he continues. “This was a pedophile group. They set up a political party there. It’s called the PNVD. They reared their ugly heads in the Ukraine war”—ah, never the Russian war!—“because they’re trying to get kids now. They’re hiding in Mexico.”

“We tapped into,” Ballard says. Tapped into? They’re in Ukraine, but hiding in Mexico? What do these vague words mean? Ballard doesn’t specify, because he can’t. There is no such political party in Ukraine, and never was. PNVD was a tiny Dutch pro-pedophilia party that dissolved in 2010.

But Posobiec eggs him on:

“You’ve got ratlines basically that are sourcing in Ukraine, but they are actually running the operation in Mexico,” Posobiec replies. He runs with Ballard’s extraordinary claim while never mentioning the documented Russian ratlines from occupied Ukraine into deepest Russia.

Can anyone seriously believe that a nation that has so scrappily stood up to Russian invaders would tolerate something like the PNVD? Can we believe that Ballard, who was barely in Ukraine, discovered such a scourge that went unnoticed by Ukrainians?

Just look at how Ukraine has responded so fiercely to Russia’s invasion: They fight like hell for their families. Ukraine is exactly the sort of society that these “Sound of Freedom” American conservatives say they love: independent of government, dependent on each other, and willing to die to protect the most innocent.

I’ve been in Ukraine for every minute of Russia’s full-scale war, so I’ve seen the reality: Neighbors do not neglect each other, especially children. In most of Ukraine, in the moments when there are no missiles falling from the sky, children play in the parks and walk to the shops on their own because society is vigilant and trust is high. For the same reason, there are not many homeless people in Ukraine: People take care of each other.

Ballard misses the reality entirely: He blames Ukraine and fails to mention Russian aggression. Now with a hugely prominent platform, played by Caveziel, one of the world’s most famous actors, Ballard denigrates Ukraine, which is in an existential gasp for freedom. He claims expertise, saying dramatically that he visited with Aerial Recovery Group in 2022—the time when he allegedly “tapped into” the Dutch pedophile party here that doesn’t exist here.

In an interview with podcaster Marisol Nichols, Ballard vaguely talks about going to hot spots in Ukraine with Aerial, which has a global mission of rescuing children in hot spots, among other things.

I am skeptical. I encountered the Aerial Recovery Group on the ground here during the first months of the full-scale invasion. Led by grizzled, tough-talking American veterans, they had an impressive, well-staffed headquarters with catering in Lviv and a big U.S. media presence. So when I was in Bakhmut in June 2022, I was quite surprised that an Aerial staffer in Lviv asked me if I knew anyone who could evacuate kids from Donbas.

“Isn’t that what you do?” I asked, having watched their prominent fund-raising media hits about rescuing children of war. Nope, they said. Insurance kept them away from the hotspots.

A few days ago, some great Ukrainian friends stopped by to visit me for a quick coffee. Civilian entrepreneurs before Russia’s big invasion were in their camo on the way back to war. And now, during yet another air-raid alarm in Kharkiv, as I look to the blue sky to see if there are missiles incoming, as I listen for that lawnmower-like sound of the Iranian suicide drones, and as I think of my heroic friends fighting in the forests and fields of the front lines, I must urgently ask Ukraine-critic Ballard:

1. Did you actually go to hot spots and gray zones?
2. Why do you not specifically condemn Russia for the clear examples of the kidnapping of Ukrainian children or for the daily bombing of their cities and villages?
3. What is your evidence that an unoccupied, free Ukraine is a hotspot for trafficking?
4. What is your evidence that a dead Dutch pedophile party operates here in Ukraine?
5. Did you hear the sound of freedom in Ukraine?

Ukrainian civilians-turned-soldiers put their lives on the line daily. Brave citizens refuse to flee everywhere from Kharkiv to Odesa. But Ballard, Posobiec—who has visited here, a story for another time—and so many other voices with powerful platforms on the American right spit out lazy aspersions against Ukraine, a country of so many heroes.

The same people promoting the film “Sound of Freedom” are putting down the very country standing for freedom. Why?

Joe Lindsley, editor of UkrainianFreedomNews.com, has been an American journalist in Ukraine since the pandemic. You can subscribe to his daily war reports on Chicago’s WGN Radio here.