Ukrainian artists serve on cultural front at reopened Lviv theater

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daryna Kirik practices at the Lviv National Opera theater in Lviv, Ukraine, on May 4.

LVIV, Ukraine — Performers have returned to the stage at the Lviv National Opera, which is presenting a regular program in the Ukrainian city of Lviv for the first time since the outbreak of the Russian invasion.

Artists appearing in the program include a conductor whose parents died in the ongoing conflict, a ballerina whose mother managed to escape from the scene of a civilian massacre, and dancers who were based at a theater that was destroyed in an air raid.

The Lviv National Opera theater has a history going back more than 120 years in a country that has produced many internationally acclaimed ballet dancers and musicians.

When the Russian invasion began, theater staff and performers halted activities and joined volunteers who were supporting displaced people who had flooded into the western city of Lviv from the capital and other parts of Ukraine.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Dmytro Ilin, left, and Yuliya Brazhnyk speak in Lviv.

Performers returned to the stage in April, when the Russian military shifted the focus of their attacks to eastern Ukraine, and full-scale orchestral concerts and ballet performances have been staged since early May. However, the audience is capped at 300 people, less than one-third of the theater’s full capacity, and performances are suspended when air-raid sirens go off.

The opera house’s chief conductor Ivan Cherednichenko selected Symphony No. 3 by one of Ukraine’s most famous composers, Borys Lyatoshynsky, for a recent performance at the theater.

The piece was censored by authorities under the Soviet regime with some ethnic elements changed, but the uncensored composition was performed in the recent show conducted by Cherednichenko, who said Russian forces killed his parents and burned their house in Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, in late March.

“It’s my job to stand on the podium and present Ukrainian culture to the world,” he said, explaining that he wants the performances to be a reflection of the current situation in Ukraine.

Daryna Kirik, a principal dancer of the theater’s ballet company, said her mother and grandmother were temporarily stranded in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha when it was occupied by Russian forces. They eventually managed to flee, but Kirik said she feared the worst when she wasn’t able to contact them.

After they escaped from Bucha, the women shared some of the horrors they had encountered, including the fact that Russian forces had fired at the cars of fleeing residents. Kirik thinks her mother and grandmother, who have since fled to Poland, have psychological scars that will be difficult to heal.

Kirik’s first performance in a lead role since the theater reopened is scheduled for late May. “I’d like to go on stage and rid myself of all the negative emotions I’ve had since the invasion started,” she said.

Dancers Yuliya Brazhnyk and Dmytro Ilin evacuated to Lviv from Mariupol, where they were based at a local theater before Russian forces devastated the city in southeastern Ukraine.

Ilin was scheduled to perform at the Mariupol theater in March, but the two dancers decided to leave the city before fighting intensified. After their escape, they saw images online of the bombed theater where they had been based.

The two dancers have been given the opportunity of performing at the Lviv National Opera since their escape from Mariupol.

“Even in difficult times, we must not forget about creativity,” Brazhnyk said. “I want to make a contribution on Ukraine’s cultural front”