Report from Kyiv - How Theater Makers in the Ukrainian Capital Experience the War
As long as we are alive
February 28th, 2022. Making Molotov cocktails, arranging shelters, and protecting locals: Ukrainian theatre makers withstand a Russian invasion. A Report from Kiyv.
By Lena Myhashko
By Lena Myhashko
February 28th, 2022. These days Ukrainian theatre makers — performers, directors, dramaturges, playwrights, as well as the majority of citizens, chose to join territorial defense and groups of volunteers to help the Ukrainian army resist the Russian forces.
The Main Task
All Ukrainian cultural institutions today are united in one statement: there’s no place for cowardly declarations about peace and neutrality in this absurd and excruciating war that Russia unleashed within the framework of her coherent policy of expanding the so-called "Russian world." We are keenly conscious of the story about occupying territories of other sovereign countries — Georgia and Moldova, so protecting the country with territorial defense seems to be the most relevant performance nowadays for the artistic community.
That’s what the first days of invasion looked like for some theatre-makers in my country.
Yaroslava Kravchenko, a founder of The Wild Theatre, an independent theatre group, decided to join the initiative of making Molotov cocktails on the left bank of Kyiv on Friday 25th when the Ukrainian government called the Ukrainians, who are capable of resistance, to stop military tanks and other hardware from entering the streets. Molotov cocktail, also called "a welcome drink" for invaders in a series of memes, is a type of firebomb, easy to make for almost every citizen (it requires gas, engine oil, spirit, and a glass bottle).
As an organization, the Wild Theatre, from its very beginning, has been consistently revealing the subject of the feminism movement, domestic abuse, and today’s democracy. For example, together with Mystetskyi Arsenal, they supported the last Belarusian protests in their project. The group also staged texts by Martin McDonagh, Michel Marc Bouchard, and other contemporary playwrights, Ukrainian and abroad.
Theatrestudio As Shelter
Here in the capital of Ukraine, we also have a theatre studio, which creates productions in English. It works both as an acting school for amateur adults and as a theatre studio with performances for an audience. Alex Borovenskyi, a director of operations, asked me not to share the particular name of this theatre today as they’re located right in a district where the gunfire continued this weekend.
"Since the first day of the Russian invasion we have hosted more than 30 local citizens and six cats)) Rehearsal rooms and performance areas are transformed into sleeping zones. The atmosphere is nice and friendly: prop bottles of the theatre are ready for Molotov cocktails. Inhabitants of the Theatre Shelter have created a tik tok channel DSP News mocking Russian occupation efforts. Art can be a weapon", — Alex shared. During the last few days, they managed to organize a bomb shelter in their basement.
Many actors, musicians, performers, etc. also have joined the territorial defense. Antonina Romanova, a nonbinary performer from Crimea, who works with PostPlay Theatre, joined one of such groups to protect the locals. "Today, for the first time, I am holding a machine gun. It turned out that I am assembling ammunition very quickly" — comment on a performer. PostPlay, where Antonina is working as a director, is a political theatre that had several co-productions and partnership projects with Moscow’s Theatre.doc and German director Georg Genoux in the past. Today they continue their work as a PostPlay Lab.
Some of our colleagues, who are working abroad now, also help Ukrainian refugees to cross the border between Ukraine and other countries. For example, Oksana Cherkashyna, who used to work with TR Warszawa and Teate Powszechny as an actress, has helped several groups to arrange a shelter in Poland.
These are just a few stories that may help you imagine the atmosphere here in Ukraine. A few colleagues from regions also shared their activities after my public request: actors and directors in Rivne are making camouflage nets for territorial defense these days, theatre-makers in Kharkiv are collecting food, blankets, and other goods for soldiers.
Meanwhile, as we see, many Russian cultural institutions and cultural
figuresupport or simply tolerate this invasion, which is unacceptable from the perspective of contemporary democracy.
Dima Levytsky, a Ukrainian director, who spent months of apprenticeship in Berlin’s group Rimini Protokoll last year, called worldwide institutions and artists to ban Russians’ cultural blindness and to support Ukrainians in every possible way:
"My name is Dima Levytsky. I am a theater director from Ukraine. I create audio walks in urban space. But now in my beloved Kyiv, it is impossible to walk because of the Russian troops on the streets of Ukrainian cities. They kill people, they destroy the city, they rob our houses. They shoot from rocket launchers, shoot from tanks and machine guns. Russian troops are doing it! This is what Vladimir Putin does! Right at this moment. On our eyes.
I demand to stop watching performances that have Russian finance while Putin is in power in Russia. Also, boycott Russian government theaters as long as the murderer controls them! Boycott from today. Cancel tours and invitations! I believe that a huge number of great artists live in Russia, but as long as the war is going on, as long as Putin is in power, we should fight against him!"
The one thing I can add is that we’re eager to share the true face of events in Ukraine right from here, with the worldwide community — as long as we stay alive and are able to do that.
Lena Myhashko is theatre critic, journalist and chief editor of Gwara Media, an expert of several programs of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. She lives in Kyiv.
Please find the German translation of Lena Myhashkos report here.