War in UkraineIn Mikolaj, a theater lives again in an underground shelter
Thanks to a European aid fund, his team bombards a small room with 35 seats almost daily.
It was the buzz of the premiere days at the Mykolaiv theater in Ukraine: on Thursday, for the first time since the start of the war, we played again in an underground shelter to escape the bombs that hit the city daily. Art director Artyom Svitsoun, 41, is at the stove and plant, welcoming visitors, showing the premises and ensuring the last technical details. He was involved in the re-opening of the theatre.
Thanks to a European aid fund, his team had two months to transform a shelter located four meters below the ground into a small 35-seat room with irregular white walls covered with a painting reminiscent of an ancient theater. “We need this space to fight on the cultural front,” he says on the small stage, capable of accommodating only a handful of actors and minimal decor. “It’s a kind of ‘art therapy’ for people who need attention while staying at Mykolaiv.”
Just 300 meters from the elegant neoclassical building that houses the theater is the twisted concrete corpse of the regional administration, which was hit by a missile on March 29, killing 37 people. Mikolaiv, a strategic port in southern Ukraine and home to 500,000 people before the Russian invasion launched on February 24, bears the scars of almost daily bombings for six months.
According to the town hall, Mykolayiv has known only 25 days of peace since February 24, prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to say that it was the most heavily bombed “Ukraine” along with the cities of Kharkiv (north) and Donbass (east). The front line stretched only twenty kilometers. The destruction does not only affect military targets: three universities were recently hit by shelling, and according to regional officials, 123 cultural institutions have been destroyed in the region since the fighting began.
“Physicians of the Human Soul”
The former Mikolaiv Russian Theater – its official name until the war – is now called the Mikolaiv Theater. In a small dressing room with walls covered with photos of Soviet, Ukrainian and Hollywood actors, actress Katerina Chernolichenko, 43, is in a good mood getting the final touches of makeup. “I’m very happy that we have found our stage, our home, and I think it’s important for art to support people,” says the actress, who, like others, volunteered for this premiere. “Actors, in these circumstances, are doctors of the human soul,” concludes her colleague Marina Vasileva, who is about to wear a wedding dress. “I now see my mission and the meaning of my life. They need me here, in Mykolaiv,” she continues.
The actors went to war
Since the start of the war, three actors have joined the army, and 20% of the group have taken refuge in Ukraine or abroad, a modest rate in a city where more than half of its population has been evacuated, according to the town hall. Statistics. The troupe usually performs in a 450-seater hall and the plays are called ‘sheltered stage’. But there is no question of playing only patriotic works in spite of the war. After a curtain-raiser and tribute to Ukraine, the premiere of the new season of Contemporary National Writers is an absurdist piece that deals with “the fulfillment of our desires,” says Artyom Svitsoun.
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