Live Performance in Ukraine

Simon O'CorraJun 17, 2022

I never thought writing about myself in strange and difficult situations would be so challenging. Even when you imagine yourself a hero in a movie, or dream of different things, it's not the same as really facing them, really feeling, really being here and now and experiencing it every day. As it turned out, this is a completely different category of feelings, which is as difficult to describe as is it is for Harry Potter to write with a special pen that Professor Umbridge gave him. Yes, words are woven with blood. Here they are - my memories.

Anatoly, an anonymous composer in Lviv 

In the face of danger and the war's heavy costs, musicians continue to make music and performers continue to perform. Despite the bombing and destruction of so many of this nation's cultural icons - the streets, theatres, opera houses and churches – Ukraine remains the proud owner of a rich tradition in the performing arts.

Early in the invasion, the rock group U2 visited Ukraine and played a concert in a Kyiv subway station alongside top Ukrainian band Antytila, who also collaborated with Ed Sheeran on a remix of his song 2step in 2022. These acts of solidarity are not lost on the people and the artists of Ukraine. Creativity is still alive and well, thanks to the internet and its power to bring people together.

U2 and Antytila, March 2022

It is a tragedy that in Russia much information sharing is banned, blacked out and crushed underfoot. Perhaps if things were different, then Russia, under the guise of Putin, would not be breaking every International Human Rights Law on the books.

Russia's internet goes dim

A composer friend in Lviv who asked to remain anonymous agreed to talk to me about how the invasion has affected his creativity and his life. Anatoly, as I shall call him, said that even the act of speaking his truth has been harrowing, living as he does under the constant threat of bombing and annihilation.

Russian rockets hit Lviv

Anatoly told me that even before the invasion of 2014 everyone knew war was inevitable. He said that even if people didn't talk about it out loud or give voice to inner fears, it was ever-present in the day's soft breeze, in the stillness of the evening and the silence of the night.

He says Ukrainians have no illusions about their neighbor, a bloodthirsty monster who wants to stamp out memories of Ukraine's statehood, because the very idea and the very name of a free Ukraine are anathema to the Russian totalitarian dictator and his followers.

Russian Missiles in blanket formation over Ukraine

Leading up to the invasion, Anatoly said, he would catch himself in the grip of pre-war angst and the knowledge that things could explode at any minute. He remembers telling himself he had to live in the moment, while peace still prevailed. He likened the period to 1938, when people sensed impending horror but could not make out the form it would take and the destruction it would inflict.

Now Anatoly jumps at loud noises. When planes fly by, he imagines them bombing and that the war has started in Lviv. He recognizes that real war is not like that, things do not happen suddenly in real wars, because it takes troops, artillery, missile strikes, aircraft and everything else.

Before the war, he sensed what he could not fully understand. The news reported on 200,000 soldiers massing near the border, but disbelief and denial ran high. Some people didn't believe that this would really happen, while others failed to act.

Anatoly said his family held long conversations about moving away from what would become war zones, but they lacked the money and opportunity, and then it was too late. The war began, and everyone is living it now.

Families fleeing war torn Ukraine

Volodymyr Serdiuk, a writer, has completed two plays since the invasion began. One short piece is filled with irony and melancholy, not about the invasion itself but more about his own experience as a 65-year-old man. He had hoped to join up as a soldier to defend his homeland, but he was told, “At your age, you'd better relax at home.”

He asked, “That means you will not even give me a rusty AK-47?”

To which the recruiting sergeant replied, “Next.”

‘Am I old for War' by Volodymyr Serdiuk performed by Pro-English Theatre

This funny, proud and cutting two-hander was recently performed by the Pro-English Theatre group in Kyiv, run by Alex Borovenskiy, which is currently live streaming old and new Ukrainian theatre around the world.

You know what just happened? 3 missiles hit Kyiv. While we were singing! The same time! The first time in two months! Apparently, Putin doesn't like concerts in support of Ukraine. I'm still shocked. Thought Kyiv would never be hit again.

Alex Borovenskiy, Pro-English Theatre, Kyiv, a Facebook quote during live by satellite performance at the LAs Vegas Asylum Theatre.

The bravery of those who choose to defy this aggressor by making theatre is staggering. One fan of the company wrote that the invasion was intended to stamp out Ukraine's culture and national identity and stressed the importance of the arts to reaffirm that identity as well as keep up the spirits of the people.

'Thursday 5am' a play by Pro-English Theatre and based on Testimonies from Ukrainian citizens

The Pro-English Theatre Group also has a school attached to it and even though Kyiv is in danger, they have resumed teaching theater arts. Classes are heavily subscribed and proceeding well despite the omnipresent threat of bombings.

Acting classes begin again at Pro-English Theatre under the direction of Alex Borovenskiy

Maminy Deti or “Mom's Children,” is a quartet from Odessa, a city spared heavy bombing until recently. The name references “Odessa Mama,” the city's nickname.

Maminy Deti Klezmer Band

This Klezmer Band for years has performed what they called the “Odessa Song,” a mix of music of different nationalities, more than 130 in their region. All group members are professional musicians or actors in orchestras, theater and film, or rather they were, before the Russians invaded and the venues were shut down and the troupes suspended. In 2008 the group wrote a play called ‘Gobies in Tomatoes' based on the Odessa Song genre and staged it at the Jewish Centre in Odessa. Subsequently it toured around the world, and the play had its last performance as recently as January 2022.

Some of the group's musicians signed up to fight at the onset of the invasion. One was then forced to leave the country, but he is back now. Currently, three of them are playing for the military or in small clubs. They say they must do this, for their own sanity and that of others, and to raise morale. Odessa is a cultural jewel, and its people cannot live without music, songs and humor, even though we have become accustomed to the sounds of rockets smashing into our city.

Odessa under attack

Older Ukrainian people, according to band leader Valery Chernis, regard this invasion as the worst of their lifetime, even those who lived through the Nazi Occupation. They believe that this invasion is a national genocide, with no one exempted and no particular group targeted. Putin wants to destroy everyone, it seems.

In Ukraine, there are no restrictions on music, so Klezmer, with its strong Ukrainian roots, is popular and has been featured in festivals and concerts held in Ukraine over the past 30 years. This invasion has changed a lot of things, but Klezmer bands continue to thrive and spread joy.

Performance is still alive and well in Ukraine, despite the horrors perpetrated by Russia. These artists channel the indomitable Ukrainian spirit not only as vital self-expression but also as an act of resistance against an aggressor who would crush the nation.

Simon O'Corra has been a creative since childhood, working in theatre and film and also as a designer and artist. He now combines all these skills to write monologues, duologues, short and feature films and plays. He also has experience in the following: copywriting, research, mind mapping and brainstorming, script editing and mentoring. Simon is a people's person and is a great networker. He currently has a range of short and feature films in development and plays also awaiting production dates post-Covid.

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