Life and Work in Luhansk’s Theater Company in Exile
15 July, 2018

Four years of blood-shedding war in the east of Ukraine have not only affected soldiers and civilians. The cultural spots of the cities located in the Russia-occupied parts of Donbas were all faced with the dilemma: to stay in the separatist-controlled area or move elsewhere.

But this was an easy decision for some of the Luhansk Regional Academic Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater crew members. Its actress Olha Yakovenko says she left Luhansk for the city of Nizhyn as soon as the war broke out.

“In 2014 our theater troupe split into two camps: one was for Ukraine, the other supported the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic,” explains Yakovenko who has worked for the Luhansk Theater for 30 years.

“It was terribly disappointing to discover that after years of working side-by-side, we have different views.”  

The Luhansk Theater subsequently made the decision to relocate to the government-controlled city of Severodonetsk at the end of 2014 too. As soon as Yakovenko discovered that, she set off to the city.

The relocation from Luhansk was modest: four people (including one actor, Ivan Sherbul) brought the theater’s statute and official seal with them. They first worked in the run-down City Drama Theater and then rented a former nursery school.

Today the theater employs not only internally displaced persons but local actors, particularly from the Severodonetsk City Drama Theater, too. The theater’s director, Serhiy Dorofeyev, began working with the relocated Luhansk Theater in October 2015.

At that time the company had two productions in its repertoire and less than 10 actors. Its building – the City Drama Theater – was in dire need of repair since a fire damaged it in 2001. In these conditions the company rehearsed, built sets and sewed costumes. They performed on the stage of the local House of Culture.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

The regional administration spent 50 million hryvnias (roughly $2 million) to renovate the City Drama Theater. It finally reopened in August 2017 and is now home to the displaced Luhansk Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater.

“I can’t say that we don’t have an audience. We do, and it’s diverse,” says director Dorofeyev. “Of course, there are some people who don’t come here on principle, as our plays are performed in Ukrainian. But we are the only theater in this city, so people have no alternative.”

“Our work demonstrates that Ukrainian theater can be contemporary, interesting and varied,” Dorofetev adds.

/Translated by Larissa Babij