“Cry of the Nation” is the name of a play about Vasyl Stus’s life. On September 4, 1985, he died in a punishment cell, where he had been thrown for reading a book, leaning his elbows on an upper bunk. The official cause of his death was heart failure. Two years before that, his book “From the camp notebook” was published, in which Stus wrote: “Psychologically, I understood that the prison gate had already opened for me, that one day it would close behind me – and close for a long time. But what could I do? Ukrainians are not allowed to go abroad, and I didn’t really want to go abroad: because who will be the mouth of indignation and protest here, in Great Ukraine? This is fate, and we don’t choose a fate. We accepted it, whatever it may be. And if we don’t accept it, it chooses us by force… But I wasn’t going to bend my head, no matter what. Behind me was Ukraine, my oppressed people, for whose honor I must fight until my death.”
Many years will pass, and the outstanding Ukrainian’s compatriots will leave their native Donbas not only to break free from the Russian occupiers. From the stage, they will prove that indomitability is a trait of the national character that can bring victory in the fight against any enemy.
“I got out from under the rubble, stepping over human bodies…”
According to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, they have already recorded more than 400 cases of damage and destruction of cultural heritage objects. The All Saints Skete of the Sviatohirska Lavra in the Donetsk Region, the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Museum in the Kharkiv region, the ancient railway station in Okhtyrka, the Church of St. George and the Ascension Church in the Kyiv region, the Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities in Chernihiv – this is by no means a complete list of destroyed and damaged Ukrainian shrines. A particularly tragic page in this list is taken by the Mariupol Drama Theater, where over three hundred people were killed by enemy bombing. Among the Mariupol residents who hid from shelling in its premises, there were many actors of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater. How they got out from under the ruins and out of the city, how the fate of the theater troupe developed – this is what the actors spoke about in Kropyvnytskyi, where they came to the theater arts festival “September Gems” with their own production of the play “Cry of the Nation” for the first time after they evacuated from Mariupol.
Five actors and two stage technicians of the 200 employees of the Donetsk Drama Theater, whose cast consisted of 57 people, came to Kropyvnytskyi for the festival. Today it is the entire theater troupe, which was sheltered by the Uzhhorod Drama Theater in Transcarpathia. Most of the actors remained in Mariupol, some died under the rubble of the theater, some were captured, and some managed to evacuate to other countries. Only a small part of the troupe was able to reunite in Uzhhorod. One of those who did not leave Ukraine is the young actor Dmytro Murantsev.
The boy went to a theater college in Mariupol and lived in a theater dormitory. He came to the drama theater early in March, when there were already a lot people there. He had lived there for 11 days before the fatal bombing.
“Why did all people go to the drama theater? We were promised a “green corridor” to Zaporizhzhia, supposedly agreed upon by both sides. We did not know exactly what day we would be given the opportunity to get out. We waited without connection, without minimum conditions, and believed that we would be able to get out of the shelling. It was very cold, people outside made fires to cook food and heat water. I was very cold after so many days in the cold theater basement, so I put on a Spider-Man costume that I found in the costume room. I didn’t care how I looked. The only thing I wanted was to get out of there as soon as possible… After the explosion, there was an instinctive desire to get out into fresh air. There was rubble and dust and a lot of lifeless people lying all around. I got out from under the rubble, stepping over human bodies, and then I just ran down the street,” Dmytro Murantsev shares his harrowing memories.
The boy says that the people who managed to get outside just ran away from the theater. The most important thing for him at that moment was to call his mother and say that he was alive. Now he talks about his rescue with a smile.
“I was walking along the highway, and suddenly a car stopped near me. The driver asks, ‘Are you Spider-Man?’ I automatically answered, ‘Yes.’ He says, ‘Get in the car.’ That’s how I managed to get to Zaporizhzhia,” Dmytro recalls.
Later, Liudmyla Kolosovych, director of the Donetsk Drama Theater, found him and offered to move to Uzhhorod and appear on stage as an actor. Now Dmytro Murantsev is studying acting at the Rivne State Humanitarian University and takes part in performances of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater.
A long way home through a filtration camp and half of Europe
The road back to Ukraine, to his theater was much longer and more difficult for Honored Artist of Ukraine Anatoliy Shevchenko. Telling his story, the man cried for the first time since the evacuation. Until then, he couldn’t release his grief through emotions.
“I couldn’t get to the theater from the left bank of the Kalmius River, where I lived, from the first days of the Mariupol bombing. For a month, my mother and I lived in a basement with a very low ceiling and we could not straighten up there. So sometimes, when I went outside, I couldn’t stand upright for a long time. We had almost no food. But leaving the city to the Ukraine-controlled territory was unrealistic. When I found out that aerial bombs had been dropped on the theater, I felt like crying, but no tears came. A few weeks later, my ninety-year-old mother died. I buried her right in a flowerbed near the basement… Then I decided to get out of the city somewhere, to be away from death…” Anatoliy Shevchenko says.
By that time, the russians had held sway over the city. They evacuated Mariupol residents through Novoazovsk to russia. Anatoliy Shevchenko chose the only possible way for him to get out of Mariupol – through Rostov. But the journey was too long for him. He, along with other Ukrainians, was placed in a filtration camp on the russian territory. He says that the conditions there were even worse than in prison, because, in addition to hunger and cold, he also had to endure humiliation and abuse. When he was released after dozens of checks, he managed to get to Vladikavkaz, and from there to Georgia.
“I was able to breathe freely only in Georgia. Kind people helped me get to Germany, and then to Poland. But I desperately wanted to go back to Ukraine. When a Polish border guard asked me where I was going, I answered: home. He probably thought that I was heading to Mariupol, and began to dissuade me from going there. And I tell him: ‘I’m going home, to Ukraine,’” Anatoliy Shevchenko says about his tribulations.
The actor recalls that the first tears came to his eyes when Liudmyla Kolosovych called and invited him to the theater.
“We have scattered around the world like peas to gather again and become a symbol of Ukraine’s indomitability”
Liudmyla Kolosovych, director of the Donetsk Drama Theater, famous Ukrainian playwright and stage director had evacuated from Mariupol a few weeks before the fatal bombing, but on that day her heart bled together with all the people of Mariupol who found themselves under the rubble of the Drama Theater. She says that the theater troupe have scattered around the world like peas to gather again and become a symbol of Ukraine’s indomitability.
“After the theater in Mariupol was bombed, a large number of ‘Mariupol theaters’ began to “spawn” and tour around Europe. But most of the troupe remained in the occupied city and created a “russian theater named after the order of honor.” In September, they opened a theater season with a concert next to the ruins of the Mariupol Theater. I cannot call them Ukrainians. We are the real Ukrainian theater that has kept faithful to our country and audience. Our theater has become truly Ukrainian. Now it really will be, because until now russian plays have prevailed in the theater’s repertoire,” Liudmyla Kolosovych notes.
The director says that although the road from Mariupol was very long for the actors of the Donetsk Drama Theater, already on June 1, they began staging the play “Cry of the Nation” about the life, work and tragic fate of Vasyl Stus.
“We wrote this play ourselves. Probably, we had to endure our own tragedy in order to understand and rethink Vasyl Stus. The second play we staged after the evacuation was “The Mariupol Tragedy”. These are the memories of our actors who survived the bombing of the theater. We want to take this play to Nuremberg, Germany and show it as evidence of the war crimes of the russian military against Ukrainians. Will the Mariupol Theater be restored after the war? A lot of people died there and, in my opinion, there should be a memorial at that place. I don’t know if we ever return to the Mariupol Theater, but I am convinced that there will definitely be the Donetsk Ukrainian Drama Theater,” emphasizes Liudmyla Kolosovych.
Liubov Popovych, Kropyvnytskyi