David Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, in which the famous host and presenter interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, premiered on Netflix on 12 December. Their conversation took place at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square, the site of the 2013–14 Revolution of Dignity) subway station, which has been disused since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022.


In addition to interviewing Zelenskyy, Letterman met Leila Tuvakliieva and Dariia Skydan, two leaders of volunteering organizations, Kyiv tour guide Yuliia Bevzenko, and Anton Tymoshenko, a stand-up comedian. Letterman’s visit to a Kyiv stand-up club made a small splash on Instagram.

The Village Ukraine talked to Tuvakliieva, Skydan, Bevzenko, and Tymoshenko, as well as Kyrylo Sliamin, a cameraman who worked with Letterman in Kyiv, about the filming process and working with the famous TV host.

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The next guest might need an introduction

Who is David Letterman? An American comedy icon, indeed the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Letterman is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time of all times. He has received over 50 Emmy Awards nominations, and has won the award eight times. Letterman, who is 75, has also received the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors and the 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Letterman hosted Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman for 33 years between 1982 and 2015, and is huge in the US. He has interviewed Robin Williams, Madonna, Barack Obama, Jim Carrey, Iggy Pop, Howard Stern, Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, and many others across his shows.

Three years after retiring, Letterman rebelled against his “retired legend” status and decided to make use of his professional experience and status to launch a new show, no longer beholden to TV industry standards. The first season of his six-episode series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction came out on Netflix in 2018, and included Letterman’s extended interviews with Barack Obama, George Clooney, and Jay-Z. The show’s latest season premiered this past May, with Letterman interviewing Billie Eilish, Will Smith, Cardi B and Ryan Reynolds.

Letterman’s interview with the Ukrainian president was released on Netflix 12 December 2022.

Filming Letterman in Kyiv

Kyrylo Shliamin

Director of photography, cameraman

Ethan Mills, the director of photography for My Next Guest, was in charge of filming the special; he chose Kyrylo Shliamin as his cameraman for filming in Ukraine.

Yes, I filmed Zelenskyy. We had one day to film all of the interviews. One day to film all of the show’s material.

On the first day, we used two cameras to film interviews with Ukrainians. Ethan’s camera was focused on David [Letterman]. My job was to capture the emotions of the people being interviewed. I’ve already made two documentaries about the war this year, and I feel like I know when I should focus on someone’s eyes, when I should make sure to capture their gestures, and how to use stills to capture people’s overall state. Four other cameramen were involved in shooting the special. There were five cameras in total.

Letterman’s first meeting with Zelenskyy was one of the most emotional moments. Letterman appeared nervous for the first time in his life.

Of course, delving deep into each interviewee’s story was also very emotional. As a cameraman I feel like I am always fully immersed in each person’s experience. Sometimes that feels like it distracts me from camerawork, but whenever I review what I filmed I always realize that the opposite is true.

This is what documentary-making is all about: to experience what the person on the other side of the camera lens is experiencing, to see yourself in the other person.

There is no doubt that Letterman is a true expert in what he does; he’s got a powerful energy. He is quick to establish a connection with people, even those who are more reserved or guarded. Some people seem to trust him more than they trust themselves.

There was no discomfort, no difficulties. It’s always great to work with a team of professionals. Both the American and the Ukrainian teams were very professional.

Extract from the special

Beyond Zelenskyy: Other Ukrainians interviewed by Letterman

Anton Tymoshenko

Stand-up comedian, screenwriter

Letterman talked to Anton Tymoshenko during a surprise visit to the Underground Stand-up Club in Kyiv, which was part of Letterman’s effort to highlight the persistence of Ukrainian humor even in the face of the war.

I knew who Letterman was before, so I really couldn’t believe that he’d come– I kept asking for proof that he’d really be there. What can I say about talking to Letterman? To be honest, I don’t really remember what we were talking about, because it was a bit stressful and the conversation was in English. It all happened very quickly and was very business-like, but I still had a good time talking to someone so well-versed in stand-up comedy.

What happened was Latterman arrived at the club, did a brief interview with me, then opened our stand-up night. He made a few jokes, they were quite funny. People recognized him, though of course not everyone. Overall, people responded to his jokes quite frankly: if they were funny, they laughed, if not, they were like: “David, you’ve got some work to do.” [He laughs] So Ukrainian audiences are very frank and honest.

«So Ukrainian audiences are very frank and honest».

I was asked to perform in English, and I wanted to somehow impress Letterman, so I wrote a new set in English in one evening, then improvised some on the night of the performance, also in English. Some of this material worked, some didn’t, but overall it was a cool – if anxiety-inducing – experience.

So Letterman got on stage, made a few jokes, and introduced me; he even hinted that if I perform well, I’ll get a Netflix special, too. Though I think he was joking. Then I presented my English material. Letterman couldn’t stay to see everyone else perform, he left right after my set. After all, he’s 75 and had such a long journey here, and had so many things going on.

Imagine: he had to travel to Ukraine, film everything here quickly, all while kamikaze drones were circling over our city. There was a large-scale drone attack on Kyiv during Letterman’s visit, and he still bravely showed up and did his job.

Interviews with volunteers

Letterman was interested to know more about the Kyiv Volunteer project, a community of Kyiv-based chefs and restaurateurs who came together in the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion to systematically respond to the food needs of the military and civilians, preparing hot meals and packed lunches for those in need, including the military, hospitals, people with injuries, the elderly and those who had no one else to turn to. (The Village covered Ukraine’s volunteering initiatives, including Kyiv Volunteer, in an earlier article.)

Daryna Skidan

Kyiv Volunteer communications director

In addition to his interview with Zelenskyy, Letterman was interested in documenting what was happening in Ukraine and how various volunteering initiatives operate in wartime. My meeting with Letterman happened at very short notice: the Kyiv Volunteer team was given an opportunity to talk a bit about their work, and we agreed.

The Kyiv Volunteer segment was filmed outside, in the middle of Kyiv. I walked through the city with Letterman and Leila Tuvakliieva, one of the organization’s founders. Tuvakliieva told him about what Kyiv Volunteer does, how the food community came together in the beginning of the full-scale invasion and what projects they are working on now.

This was right before the filming of Letterman’s interview with Zelenskyy at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti subway station.

The documentary overall was not scripted, and Letterman recorded segments with ordinary Ukrainians, as well as the volunteers doing everything within their powers to bring victory closer.

Leila Tuvakliieva

Co-founder of Kyiv Volunteer

I arrived at the interview location with my son Tymur, who was just two and a half months old at the time. We waited at the Intercontinental Hotel on Velyka Zhytomyrska for a while, then we were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Then we were outside, walking through Sofiia Square; Letterman noticed me and my son while talking to someone else, approached us and started asking what I was doing there. “I’m here for an interview with you,” I said, and he replied: “Dear God, what are you doing here! It’s a freezing winter, and you’re out here with your kid.” [She laughs]

I told him about Kyiv Volunteer, about the work that we’re doing, the main work streams within the organization. Our conversation didn’t take more than three or five minutes and was entirely unscripted.

In the end, Letterman said that I should go inside to get warm and to make sure my son’s protected from the cold. That’s what he was like.

Yuliia Bevzenko

Tour guide, founder of Shukai!, a project highlighting Kyiv’s history through miniature sculptures

I was asked to organize a tour for Letterman, but in the end we only met for about five minutes on Sofiia Square. We ran into a wonderful person and I helped translate Letterman’s questions.

I told Letterman about the history of St Sofiia Cathedral. He said: “So it’s seen the Mongols, whoah.” Now the cathedral is watching over another group of young people, the Angels of Azov. [Letterman was filing on 20 October, a week after the opening of the open-air exhibition dedicated to the Azov Regiment soldiers killed while defending Ukraine - ed.]

Towards the end of our conversation Letterman asked why there are so many pictures of the Azov fighters posing with cats and dogs. I explained that they rescued those animals and so decided to take photos with them.

Yes, women and men in Ukraine don’t just save each other’s lives, but also the lives of barely-breathing stray cats.

We even have special vehicles that take rescued animals from danger zones to shelters, where they are treated and taken care of. People who already have several pets, kids, and elderly parents then adopt yet another cat from those shelters.

Photo: Netflix
Translator: Olya Loza
Editor: Sam Harvey