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The show must go on: performances at the Mykolaiv theater move underground

origin 1For the first time since the beginning of the war, spectators see a performance in the basement of the Mykolaiv Drama Theater. ©AFP

A theater in Mykolaiv celebrates its 100th anniversary with empty halls and a cramped cellar as guests are ushered underground by Russian airstrikes.

“We can’t handle events on our big stage under the roof. It’s really dangerous. There are many missiles that hit the city center,” says Artem Svystun, director of the theater.

“That’s why we hold our events in the cellar, where people are already safe.”

The theater doors were closed for the first half of the war as Mykolaiv was rapidly threatened by Russian forces. The city that was home to half a million people before the war began is just 70 kilometers west of Kherson, and has been hit by artillery fire and airstrikes.

But a European aid fund has helped Svystun and his team transform the theater’s cellar that housed a gymnasium into a 35-seat venue.

Most of his shows are now confined to that small space, except when he hosts open-air shows for displaced people. And the seats in front of the main stage of the theater are covered with a white sheet, which protects them from falling fragments from the chandelier and ceiling.

Olha Storozhuk is a young singer and actress who performs in the theater. She says her performances are the reason she wakes up every morning.

“I know my job is necessary,” she says. “When I sing or play on stage, people come and say ‘thank you, great, for this hour or 90 minutes where we got back to that life we ​​had… that wonderful, peaceful life we ​​had.'”

One of the shows, titled “The Cats Refugees,” is intended as an educational story for children.

“[The play] show children how to behave in this difficult situation when trouble has come to our house… in Ukraine, how to keep calm and help each other,” says actress and director Kateryna Bohdanova.

“It’s not exactly a fairy tale, because what’s happening here in our country is not exactly a fairy tale.”

A missile hit the theater in the fall, but opened its doors soon after, with wooden slats now covering many of its windows.

“’Life doesn’t stop, it doesn’t stop’”, says the theater director like a mantra.

“The theater lives”.