(David Gormezano’s article appeared on France24, 3/21; Photo: Alex Borovensky, Tetiana Shelepko and their friends sit in front of the ProEnglish Theatre in Kyiv, on March 20.)
The ProEnglish Theatre used to be known as a small independent Kyiv ensemble that put on English-language plays and offered drama classes. But in the four weeks since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the theatre has become an “art shelter”, where actors come together to bear witness to war atrocities and scale an all-out artistic resistance. FRANCE 24 went to meet the troupe determined to help Ukraine win the war against Russia.
On February 24, Alex Borovensky, the director of the ProEnglish Theatre, received a phone call telling him that war had broken out and that Russian tanks had entered Ukraine. “I hung up, and then I heard explosions, and then sirens. It was unreal, I didn’t want to believe what was happening. My partner and I packed our bags and decided to take shelter in the theatre, which is located in a basement. At the end of the day, we all watched Mission Impossible 4 together, because at the end of the film, Tom Cruise destroys the Kremlin.”
In just a few short days, the actor and former English teacher had become a resistance fighter. The windows of the theatre overlooking the street have been secured, and the performance hall has been turned into a dormitory where people living in the building can take shelter at night whenever the city’s air raid alarms ring out. Borovensky is also helping to spread information about what is happening in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine by speaking to English-language media. When humanitarian aid trucks roll into the city, he helps unload and distribute the goods in the neighbourhood surrounding the theatre. Survival and solidarity is the order of the day.
“Every day, people ask me to come and take refuge with them, but I want to stay here. I want to see what is happening with my own eyes. Art is my resistance, and that’s what I want to share, that’s why I’m staying in Kyiv.”
On this Sunday, March 20, the 25th day of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the unreal has become the new normal in Kyiv. There is currently a strange calm reigning over the city, occasionally disrupted by the dull rumble of Ukrainian anti-aircraft defence systems. In the past few days, Russian missiles have hit apartment buildings and killed several people, all the while army-to-army clashes continue some 30 kilometres north of the capital. The clear blue sky and the warming rays of the sun seem to indicate that spring is approaching. Borovensky and his friends have therefore decided to take the day off to relax.
“There is no massive bombing so we’re venturing out a little more in the city, we’re starting to drive around Kyiv again. But there have been direct strikes on the city. One of them hit a building next to where one of the theatre’s actresses live and the windows of her apartment exploded. So we’re waiting to see what happens.”