Kiev National Academic Operetta’s Theater actors are speaking from the epicenter of war in Ukraine, telling how they met the war, their first thoughts, and feelings, and commenting on what is happening in their lives right now…
“On February 24, at 6:05 am, my godmother called my wife and said that the war had started. I didn’t believe it at first, but then our child started crying, and we thought maybe it was fireworks. I realized that it wasn’t fireworks, but (an air?) hit on Zhulyany, the airport nearby. I quickly gathered the children and took them out, because kids should not be in danger. I can’t be self-confident when my kids are not safe. So, I took them away, and from the second day of the war, I helped people with transportation and evacuation. My dad and I covered 3,256 km in four days with only 6 hours to sleep, but we knew we needed to do something! They would not take me to Territorial Defense in my district, saying, “Brother, we know you, but there is a long line of those wishing to join the ranks of defenders’. But I didn’t want to just sit and wait. I’ll do what I can. If the time comes I will take a gun and go to fight, but now I’m in an information war. I can see how many Ukrainian people have come together and are doing something important for our country. For the whole world – I beg you – we will cope on the ground but we ask you to close the sky over Ukraine!
There are a lot of volunteers here, an actor and director, a geologist and an IT specialist – everyone finds a chance to become useful. They help with transportation, collect humanitarian aid, bake bread like grandmothers in the villages. Women bring buckets of milk, people lie under tanks with their bodies… everyone is doing everything to win. I believe in victory, so everyone – help to close to the sky over us! Glory to Ukraine!”
Arsen Kurbanov, Honored Artist of Ukraine
“You can make plans for the future and then one fascist can break everything! On February 24, waking up at 6 am from a phone call from my brother, I came to the understanding that Russia had started a war with Ukraine. For the first 5 seconds, I was in a stupor and then the thought flashed that this was a joke—that it was someone’s stupid and rude joke. I have a rehearsal at 11 am today, and tomorrow there is the premiere of the show to which we moved with our theater team for more than one month! Costumes, scenery, makeup, wigs – everything is ready, “just dress and start”, alas, no such luck! At 6 am I sat in the kitchen and I couldn’t believe what just happened—it’s a nightmare, it’s not real. But then outside the window, there is a sound from an explosion and I realize that this is not a dream—no one will wake me up! And then the panic begins: How? Why? What to grab? Where to go? Is there is a way out of the situation, or you are cornered? Taxi, phone calls to relatives, and I’m on my way out of the city.
I get out of the taxi to get groceries because both in the city and the suburbs there was panic about not having a clear understanding of what you would need—food, medicine, gasoline. Leaving the store, I hear the noise of the engine and see a squadron of 20 helicopters, and in some naivety, I think they must be ours. But why so low and why so many of them? Again, stupor! A few seconds later, there’s an explosion and two helicopters are shot down right in front of my eyes. A feeling of shock and horror. Somewhere in the depths of the brain, my self-preservation instinct is triggered: run, these are not friends, these are those who came to kill us! Shock, panic, and tears fill my eyes. And the worst thing is the paralysis of the whole body —the brain works, but the body refuses to obey. A sense of hopelessness. Taxi, home again, closed doors, and five seconds of security until the silence is broken by explosions again. Howling sirens, car alarms in the yard, and rattling window frames. And most importantly, the feeling of fear, it’s impossible to think clearly and to breathe.
Twelve days of chronic insomnia, the constant howl of sirens announcing about the air raid alert to all the citizens of Kyiv. Day two, a rocket hits an apartment building. Day three, a residential area of Kyiv is on fire. Day four, four rockets fly to Kyiv. This is surreal. I’m in a movie—end this horror! All my thoughts of only one thing – so that no one dies, so that everyone is safe! All I can think is that I hope nobody dies and that I hope everybody stays safe. Every day I call and text with all my relatives and friends from Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Irpin, and Bucha! Twelve nights spent between the bathroom and the corridor with constant explosions all over Kyiv, —air raids, rockets in the city center in sleeping areas, and on the outskirts! The city of Kharkiv turns to ruins and Chernihiv and Irpin are constantly being shelled. These were my friend and colleagues and there’s nothing I can do. You ask God for only one thing – end this HELL! And in response, the silence of the night is broken by another howl of a siren. So you grab your relatives and rush to the bath corridor or to the load-bearing walls. You wait minute by minute and the time drags on, It’s godlessly long—two, three, four hours on a blanket in complete darkness. It’s no better during the day because the windows are sealed with tape in case of an explosion. They are covered with thick curtains that do not let light in and turn the apartment into a crypt. I spent the first four days of the war without any food (I simply could not eat anything), only coffee and cigarettes. I had one obsessive thought – what to do next? Train. Transfer to another evacuation train. But I won’t know where I’m going or for how long. What’s waiting for us? We need to live. We need to believe that it will get better. The most important thing is that my most beloved person, my mom, is right here next to me.”
Blockade of Irpin.
“The first days of the war, I was at home and hid in the bathroom. But when a shell hit my house, I decided to go down to the parking garage. There were a lot of people there who had arranged some tables and a sleeping zone below. It turns out that people have lived like this since the beginning of the war. For a couple of nights, I slept on a cardboard box with a blanket and a bag chair covered with a blanket, but it was unbelievably cold. Then the electricity in the city was turned off! Some people decided to leave and the first cars of people were shot. Shells were constantly flying over our apartment buildings and we were in the crosshairs of fire. In the evening, when we were hiding, a shell flew into the last floor of my housing section and, sadly, it became fatal for my neighbors, a father and a son who had gone to spend the night in their apartment. When all electricity connections were сut-off, we decided to improve our daily life by at least boiling water for tea. We created a huge kitchen from what we had—scaffolding, discarded bedside tables, firewood. Everyone was helpful. We even had a professional chef who cooked dinners for a huge crowd of us. Everybody brought the food from their apartments, and then we sorted it. Coffee, tea, and sugar we had always in abundance.
We found more water but our most valuable resource was people, my amazing neighbor who I finally was able to meet. The goal was to survive, and we achieved it. I was scared to evacuate due to the shelling but I followed my intuition. It was telling me, “Don’t go now, stay!” Then, suddenly, when the State Emergency Service arrived again to rescue us, an inner voice said,”Yes!” Fortunately, we drove quickly, reached the ruined Irpin-Romanivka bridge safely. It was hard to leave my home and the people who stayed there. Honestly, it’s always hard to make a such choice! I will never forget the inner monologue I had then.
I believe that light will break through the darkness! Glory to Ukraine! I liked the quote from Facebook: “There is no nation – there is a Person!” I have a dream to return to the theater again and to all its processes. I have a strong desire to create because there are already enough destructions, both in our souls and in our country. So, don’t lose the person within yourself. ”
“On February 23, I heard Putin’s address. I was at the rehearsals for the play The Ball which was set to premiere on February 25. I left rehearsal with my friend and colleague Volodymer Odrynsky and we talked about the war starting. When I arrived home I looked through everything I could find about it in media. Then I went to bed. At 4:30 am I felt the explosions and opened the window automatically. I saw many neighbors looking out of their window. I called my relatives. “Do you hear that?,” they asked. “What?” “Explosions!” I intuitively started to gather things and filled the tank of the car with gasoline.”
Both Oleksiy and Volodymyr Odrynsky are now in the Territorial Defense helping to defend Ukraine.
On February 24 around 5:23 in the morning, I woke up to the sound of someone knocking on my window. Everything inside me was awake but I kept my eyes closed. In my head, I asked, “Who could that be knocking on my 4th-floor window? Or maybe it’s a bomb? Oh no, a bomb!” Somehow, everything inside of me trembled. I drank some water and told myself I should go back to sleep because I had the premiere of our show at the theater. But I can’t sleep. “Well, I’ll look at Facebook,” I thought. I opened it to find I was not the only one who couldn’t sleep and I was not the only one who thought I was hearing bombs. I saw a dozen messages from my colleagues and friends about the same things. Furthermore, I saw that my mother who lives in Mykolaiv had been active10 minutes ago. I called her. The sky was on fire there, too. And then I realized that the war had begun.
On the 10th day of the war, I asked myself what is hardest to do in a life? The answer was: to make decisions. I want to convey something to the whole theatrical community and of people of other professions, of different ages, statuses, genders, races, and so on. People, listen to your heart. Make decisions from your heart. You won’t be ashamed of yourself later on if you do. For the first 12 days of the ward, people dear to my heart were far away. I hugged no one and no one hugged me. I urge you to hug each other as much as possible and give them your warmth—-someone really needs it
I am 25. I have been working in the Operetta Theater for two years, where I had the opportunity to perform in plays, musicals and take part in various creative projects. All my life I have been making art, and I am insanely happy to be a part of this field. In recent years, I have been able to find myself, understand my destiny, and continue to move to the top of my dreams. Every day has been a gift to me from the universe, having the opportunity to do what I love the most, to travel, to communicate with amazing people, and to discover new facets of their capabilities.
On February 24, I woke up at 7:30 am. Neighbors woke me up with the words that the war had begun. The first thing I did was call my mom and let her know. Tears came to my eyes with one thought: “again”. For me, as a person who experienced the Russian Federation brazenly stage an incredible horror in the Donbass in 2014, the reality of the situation was clear. Surprisingly, I managed to keep a cool head and started thinking about my plan of action. I understood that I should not panic and run in an incomprehensible direction. I decided to stay at home. That same day, I was able to find shelter in my backyard, where I decided to spend the night. As the explosions in my city began to approach, my fears began to increase. Fortunately, I managed to meet interesting people in the basement, where we spent most of their time supporting each other. After a week of living in a shelter, most of the residents of my house started to leave, searching for a safe place for their children and parents. Fear continued to grow because we understood the value of human life and that it could be gone in seconds. The only thought in your head is to survive.
Now I am in Kyiv. Many people close to me left the capital of Ukraine. Some went to other cities and some left the country. I continue to hope that this darkness is about to end, but it is intensifying now, and I have a new fear of going to my own yard. Now I realize how one moment could destroy all your plans, dreams, goals that you have built throughout your life. But the most difficult thing is to watch how your country is ruined. They simply try to wipe it off the map. We will never forgive Russia for its heinous crimes against humanity. The horrors of the “Russian peace” are now obvious to every inhabitant of the planet. I guess the suffering of Ukrainians is the fault of several generations of Russians. Criminal indifference and complete submission to one’s authority confirm the involvement of everyone in this evil empire.
On the evening of the 23rd I was preparing for the following day, a day of rehearsal for a new play, The Ball, directed by the Italian director Matteo Spiazzi. I expected the next few days would be ones of enthusiasm and delight until my husband woke me up at 5 am and sharply said, “Wake up! They’ve started bombing. Grab everything you can.” He had woken up a bit earlier and was white with terror from the first bombing.
The whole building had woken up. Everybody was rushing up and down the stairs packing all they could bring with them into their cars. Well, those who had cars. The others are still there.
We didn’t want to leave Kyiv, but decided not to stay there—-too dangerous. So we moved in with our friend who lived in the suburb of the city. And then it started. Reactive jets, explosions, frequent shootings. It so happened that the suburb was near Gostomel, the epicenter of the first battles for the Gostomel airport. It was such a scary feeling, this physical feeling of fear. With each explosion, I felt my blood-chilling. We decided to move further to the west until it was too late.
We are not in the western part of Ukraine in relative safety and calmness. We are helping the army with money and refugees with food. We are helping people make Molotov cocktails. We are fighting the Information War against Russian propaganda by posting, writing, and spreading the truth to the world every day. We are helping with everything that we can and still there is the constant feeling of needing to do more. What we really need to do now is help people who create culture (musicians, actors, singers theater workers) find refuge from places that are dangerous, or on fire, or under occupation. Our weapons are not guns or rifles. We do our work and make our art, with music, dance and words. Our work can help and should still be heard. We can use our weapons to raise money for the army and for all the needs of the Ukrainian people. However, we really need support.
Support Ukraine here.
Photos with actors on stage made by Oksana Lazepko.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Tanya Vasylkevych.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.