Culture, Travel & Sport

Ukraine’s Molodyi Teatr brings the Donbas war to the London stage

Molodyi Teatr (Young Theatre), a Ukrainian-British theatre group, is taking the lead in raising awareness about the war in eastern Ukraine. Dedicated to bringing the voices of Ukrainian migrants to the London stage, the group is also aiming to fight stereotypes with comedy.

The theatre group was founded in the UK 2010, and began by staging adaptations of famous Ukrainian writers such as Nikolay Gogol or Taras Shevchenko, as well as contemporary poets. The group later went on to perform documentary pieces about the Holodomor, the famine-genocide in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933, as well as the 2013-14 revolutionary protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square.

The company’s first English-language show, Bloody Eastern Europeans, became a huge success when first staged in 2015. The cabaret-style musical satire that pokes fun at British attitudes towards Eastern European migrants was named one of 49 shows to see at the Edinburgh Festival, shortlisted for Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award, while the Central and Eastern European London Review called it: “fresh, thoughtful and a hell of a lot of fun.”

Bloody Eastern Europeans was soon followed by Penetrating Europe or Migrants Have Talent, another brutal comedy, this time parodying the TV talent show.

“After both of these shows, we had people come up to us and say: ‘you showed exactly what my life looked like’,” Olesya Khromeychuk, a cast member at Molodyi Teatr and teaching fellow at King’s College London told Hromadske in an interview.

“In one of our shows, instead of singing ‘YMCA’ we sang ‘UKBA’ (UK Border Agency). It was funny and it worked. We find that humor in general is an excellent tool for conveying difficult, serious messages,” she continued.

“The jokes flow freely, poking fun at the characters’ unpronounceable names and predilection for vodka,” Samuel Goff wrote for the Calvert Journal after seeing the group in action.

While comedy is an essential part of their theatrical shows, the company’s ultimate goal is to promote the real side of Ukraine’s culture, introduce the everyday struggles of Ukrainian citizens, often with their brutal reality, as well as to raise awareness about the war in Donbas, given that news of the conflict rarely makes headlines in the UK, even though Ukrainians are dying almost every day.

The company’s current show, All That Remains, is the latest example. A “reflection on loss and memory based on true stories from the ongoing war”, the play tells the story of how a woman lost her brother in the armed conflict. Written by Ms Khromeychuk herself, the story is based on Volodymyr, who was a soldier of the Ukrainian army and died fighting for his country in 2017.

“Funerals for the war dead have become normal, but they are anything but normal. We talk about universal issues such as losing your loved one, but through that also explain some things about this specific war which gets very little attention in the West,” she added.

The story is not a tale of a fallen hero, rather a more realistic and moving performance about “the tragedy of the loss of life”, trying to explain how living with a war as part of one’s life makes sense. A documentary piece, the play also includes video footage of Volodymyr’s experience on the frontline.

Photo: Anna Morgan. You can find out more about Molodyi Teatr London here.