The new drama of the Ukrainian theater? Make dumplings for the soldiers

DROHOBYCH, Ukraine (AP) — The theater was empty. The seats were covered in dust. But it was a moment of drama that Alla Shkondina had prepared all her life.

“There’s a saying that when the shots ring out, the muses are silent,” said the Ukrainian actress, standing on the stage naked with a shawl wrapped around her to shield herself from the cold. “But we are not silent.”

She has retired from the spotlight and now makes dumplings to send to soldiers, working alongside other performers in the cafe at the Drohobych Repertory Theater. It’s a small part of a massive war effort by defiant volunteers across the country who often find themselves playing unexpected roles.

In the theater’s warmly lit cafe, where the snack bar’s popcorn has gone stale for nearly a month since Russia’s invasionArtists from this community at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in southwestern Ukraine were rolling and filling dough to add to the thousands of dumplings they sent to the front or to displaced people in need.

“We made over 3,000 pounds of meatballs,” theater manager Mykola Hnatenko said. “One hundred and fifty kilograms of cabbage cooked with meat. More than 10,000 verenyky (dumplings) with potato. Seventy kilograms of filling for borscht. Eighty kilograms of fried fish. Two thousand meat pancakes, and 500 sweet pancakes. Now we have decided to make more food with protein like meat.

In the courtyard, men, their hands blackened with soot, were chopping wood for the kitchen fires, watched by the theater’s deputy director, Sergei Havdjak, in drab military uniform.

Hnatenko seemed particularly proud of the borscht volunteers sent to soldiers in places like the capital, Kyiv, where some areas collapsed in brutal street-to-street fighting in near-freezing weather. He showed cellphone video of a food distribution in Kyiv, with a smiling soldier flashing a “V” for the victory sign.

The food-making effort began on the second day of the Russian invasion. About 150 volunteers are needed, including performers who have been displaced from other parts of Ukraine and are now living in the theater, Hnatenko said.

“It inspires us that we also contribute in some way to the victory of the country,” he said.

Theater workers have been shaken by the war and the testimonies of people who have joined them after fleeing from other parts of Ukraine. Shkondina, the actress, described the children arriving with “adult eyes” full of terror, needing time to feel normal again.

“It’s like the war I heard about in books or heard about from my grandparents,” she said.

While Shkondina wasn’t used to making dumplings – “Because we’re actors, we don’t have time to do such things,” she said – she and others gladly presented performances for displaced children whose families have fled to Drohobych, to help distract them from the war.

The performances tapped into nostalgia for life before the invasion of Russia.

On a golden couch near a piano, in a pool of calm near the bustle of preparing meals, Vasil Nevolov sat alone and contemplated the past. After living 50 years in kyiv as an art critic and teacher, he suddenly had to flee.

“Everything around my house is destroyed,” he said. “There is no more supermarket. There is no more school. Much of his life’s work now seemed to have little meaning.

He worried about his grandchildren, who remained in kyiv. They can’t leave. Their mother is a health assistant, their father a new member of the territorial defense. He is proud of their work and proud of the work of the volunteers around him.

“Despite my age, which is already quite respectable, 74, I want to be useful in the theater,” Nevolov said of his new community.

In the midst of the chaos, he finds optimism. He repeated the saying that has become a rallying cry and reassurance for millions: “Everything will be Ukraine” – everything will be fine.


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