The troupe of the Drama Theater of Mariupol at the end of the play.
The troupe of the Drama Theater of Mariupol at the end of the play. © Sergey Hudak
Ihor Kitrysh and Olena Bila, both 41, worked together in Mariupol for 19 years. After a Russian rocket destroyed their apartment, the couple and their ten-year-old son moved in to the theatre’s costume workshop. On March 15, they decided to leave and head to the Kharkiv region, where Ihor is originally from. From there, they traveled to Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, where they worked in the local theatre. They then moved to Uzhhorod when they learnt that the crew would revive the theatre there.
Ihor Kitrysh and Olena Bila, both 41, worked together in Mariupol for 19 years. After a Russian rocket destroyed their apartment, the couple and their ten-year-old son moved in to the theatre’s costume workshop. On March 15, they decided to leave and head to the Kharkiv region, where Ihor is originally from. From there, they traveled to Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, where they worked in the local theatre. They then moved to Uzhhorod when they learnt that the crew would revive the theatre there. © Sergey Hudak
Actor Dmytro Murantsev, 22, was in the theatre basement with his girlfriend when the Russians shelled the building. They survived because they stayed down as his girlfriend was cooking fish on a fire. When the basement filled with dust, they managed to get out. “I remember that it was cold and that we ran. I was in my Spiderman pyjamas.”
Actor Dmytro Murantsev, 22, was in the theatre basement with his girlfriend when the Russians shelled the building. They survived because they stayed down as his girlfriend was cooking fish on a fire. When the basement filled with dust, they managed to get out. “I remember that it was cold and that we ran. I was in my Spiderman pyjamas.” © Sergey Hudak
Lyudmila Kolosovych follows the rehearsal of Cry of a Nation. The 58-year-old acting director of the Mariupol Drama Theater joined the crew in 2020. “I chose to relocate to Uzhhorod because it is the farthest point from military operations. In such conditions, actors will be able to be calm and focus on their work.”
Lyudmila Kolosovych follows the rehearsal of Cry of a Nation. The 58-year-old acting director of the Mariupol Drama Theater joined the crew in 2020. “I chose to relocate to Uzhhorod because it is the farthest point from military operations. In such conditions, actors will be able to be calm and focus on their work.” © Sergey Hudak
Vera Lebedynska, 64, sheltered from the shelling in the theatre for two weeks. She survived the March 16 attack. "We ran over corpses," she recalled. It took her eight days to get from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Traumatised, she made it to the Lviv region where she stopped, trying to recover. But when she heard about the revival of the Mariupol theatre, "I immediately said ‘I'm coming!"
Vera Lebedynska, 64, sheltered from the shelling in the theatre for two weeks. She survived the March 16 attack. "We ran over corpses," she recalled. It took her eight days to get from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Traumatised, she made it to the Lviv region where she stopped, trying to recover. But when she heard about the revival of the Mariupol theatre, "I immediately said ‘I'm coming!" © Sergey Hudak
Anatoly Shevchenko, 68, has been with the Mariupol Drama Theatre’s crew for 23 years. He endured the shelling of the port city with his mother and sister. When his mother died of a heart attack, Shevchenko could not bury her. He still struggles to come to terms with it. Together with his sister he was sent to a filtration camp and then to Russia. From there they managed to get to Georgia, then to Germany and Poland. Finally, they made it back into Ukraine.
Anatoly Shevchenko, 68, has been with the Mariupol Drama Theatre’s crew for 23 years. He endured the shelling of the port city with his mother and sister. When his mother died of a heart attack, Shevchenko could not bury her. He still struggles to come to terms with it. Together with his sister he was sent to a filtration camp and then to Russia. From there they managed to get to Georgia, then to Germany and Poland. Finally, they made it back into Ukraine. © Sergey Hudak
People look at photographs from the frontline in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, by photojournalist Serhiy Vaganov. An exhibition was organised in the foyer of the Transcarpathian Regional Music and Drama Theatre in Uzhhorod.
People look at photographs from the frontline in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, by photojournalist Serhiy Vaganov. An exhibition was organised in the foyer of the Transcarpathian Regional Music and Drama Theatre in Uzhhorod. © Sergey Hudak
A member of Ukraine’s armed forces stares at photographs from the frontline in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, by photojournalist Serhiy Vaganov.
A member of Ukraine’s armed forces stares at photographs from the frontline in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, by photojournalist Serhiy Vaganov. © Sergey Hudak
Uzhhorod writer Bundy Sholtes in the foyer of the Transcarpathian Regional Music and Drama Theatre.
Uzhhorod writer Bundy Sholtes in the foyer of the Transcarpathian Regional Music and Drama Theatre. © Sergey Hudak
The seven actors in a scene of Cry of a Nation.
The seven actors in a scene of Cry of a Nation. © Sergey Hudak
Ihor Kitrysh as Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian writer who died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985 at the age of 47.
Ihor Kitrysh as Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian writer who died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985 at the age of 47. © Sergey Hudak
A scene from the play Cry of a Nation.
A scene from the play Cry of a Nation. © Sergey Hudak
The stage of the Mariupol theatre during Cry of a Nation.
The stage of the Mariupol theatre during Cry of a Nation. © Sergey Hudak
Ihor Kitrysh and Olena Bila and their ten-year-old son Matviy in their role of Vasyl Stus, his wife and son Dmytro.
Ihor Kitrysh and Olena Bila and their ten-year-old son Matviy in their role of Vasyl Stus, his wife and son Dmytro. © Sergey Hudak
A scene from the performance of Cry of a Nation.
A scene from the performance of Cry of a Nation. © Sergey Hudak
Cry of the Nation ends with Stus' call to fight for Ukraine and the audience breaks into a standing ovation.
Cry of the Nation ends with Stus' call to fight for Ukraine and the audience breaks into a standing ovation. © Sergey Hudak
Mariupol Drama Theatre actors at the end of their first show since the bombing of the building on March 16.
Mariupol Drama Theatre actors at the end of their first show since the bombing of the building on March 16. © Sergey Hudak
A woman wipes her tears after the performance Cry of a Nation.
A woman wipes her tears after the performance Cry of a Nation.

Mariupol Theatre’s Actors Interpret the Cry of a Nation

Although the iconic cultural centre lies in ruins, those who kept it alive for decades are trying to revive its legacy.

Ukrainian writer Vasyl Stus fought for Ukraine’s identity against the then-Soviet Union until he died in a labour camp in 1985. For the seven actors who stepped on a stage in western Ukraine on July 16 to perform a play based on Stus’ struggle, his story was particularly poignant.  They all survived the siege of Mariupol by Russian forces and the shelling of the theatre they used to call home. 

Cry of a Nation, a narrative of Stus’ fight for Ukraine premiered in Uzhhorod exactly four months after Russia leveled the theatre in Mariupol, killing an estimated 600 people and turning the heart of the port city’s vibrant cultural life into a symbol of the horror of war.  

"We ran over corpses," recalled Vera Lebedynska, 64, who found shelter from the shelling in the theatre at the beginning of March.  

Interview with Lyudmila Kolosovych, Mariupol Drama Theatre Director – By Sergey Hudak, July 14 2022, Uzhhorod, western Ukraine

“Everyone who escaped has survived as best they could, everyone has their own story. I left Mariupol on the very first day [of the invasion], many actors were in the building during the bombardment,” Lyudmila Kolosovych, the 58-year-old director, told IWPR.

Twenty-two year old Dmytro Murantsev was in the basement when the attack began on March 16. He managed to escape, in the cold and wearing only his pyjamas.

“[Once out] we discovered that in the rest of Ukraine the situation was different, that Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Khahrkiv, and Kyiv are ours, and that Mariupol was an exception,” he told IWPR ahead of the premiere of Cry of a Nation. 

Although Mariupol’s Academic Drama Theatre lies in ruins, the people who kept it alive for decades are trying to revive its legacy and rebuild their lives. The crew was largely scattered across Ukraine and abroad, but some members responded to Kolosovych’s call and relocated to Uzhhorod. 

The Mariupol Drama Theatre’s new home is in the Transcarpathian Regional Music and Drama Theatre in Uzhhorod, the main centre of Ukraine’s westernmost region of Zakarpattia.

The crew and director are already working on a documentary play based on the tragic experience of the actors who escaped Mariupol. The theatre has been invited on tour to several Ukrainian cities and abroad. 

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