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.