«A bad movie shot with state money destroys culture like a bombs dropped on a museum.» Actress Rymma Zyubina

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Rymma Zyubina told Lviv Now why Ukraine needs a serious theatre, whether we still need the titles of Honored and People’s Artist, and why every Ukrainian should stand in front of the mirror and ask himself: who am I in this war?

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Rymma, you are currently in Lviv with a performance.

I am in Lviv, the play is living here. This is the «Voskresinnia» (Resurrection) theatre, and the performance was born in 2019. The play is «August. Osage County», the one for which Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was made into a famous Hollywood movie. Meryl Streep plays the role of the mother, and Julia Roberts plays the role of Barbara, which I perform in the play.

And at that time [in 2019] I went to Severodonetsk, to the Luhansk Ukrainian Theatre. I came as an actress from Kyiv, not like some stars who showed something and left. It was important to me that I come to the team and listen to these stories from Luhansk since 2014. The war already began for me at that time. And it was important for me to draw attention to Luhansk, to the theatre, that my media face would somehow attract the audience. 

Which theatre do you think is most relevant right now, during the full-scale invasion?

I hoped that all these terrible combination companies with terrible names of performances, as if taken from the yellow press, would finally disappear. When I arrive in Kropyvnytskyi, we bring the performance of the Kherson theatre «You can’t remain», where everything is real, painful, it’s a documentary theatre. And I see such a huge poster «Boulevard of Red Lights». May you be healthy with these! Again, all these plays «I’ll sell my husband», «I’ll buy a wife».

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I’ve always been in favour of deep, serious theatre, which then doesn’t let you calm down and makes you think. When I was asked whether we had anything entertaining, I answered: «There’s a hydropark, 24/7.»

Maybe people want to switch [from the war], they just don’t have the strength anymore?

But everything has already been switched... I believe that every person should go to the mirror and ask himself first of all: who am I in this war? What didn’t I do with my relatives and friends? One said: «I have relatives in Moscow, but we don’t talk about politics.» But it’s necessary to speak! Or: «What did I do to start this war?» Just shouting «Muscovites away»? What did you do?

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Before the war, one of the Kyiv theatres had 13 plays by Russian authors. National Theatre. «National» is now distributed to everyone, but...

...it sent that signal to Putin that «everyone is waiting for him here.»

This is terrible. Now, these plays are gone. And what about my colleagues who ran, even jumped, to star in Russian TV series? Now they have lost blindness. How can it be called?

There are many Honoured, or People’s Artists among them...

I don’t even have words to talk about hese titles... The first two months of the war have passed, Theatre Day has passed. On the public holidays, when these titles were always distributed, have not been given to anyone, and no one has died from it. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia abolished these titles along with Soviet narratives. I asked the director of the Georgian theatre: «Do you like titles?» And he said: «A good actor receives well from me, a very good one – very well, and a bad one simply does not work for me.» That’s it, nothing more... Well, Meryl Streep is an honoured artist of the state of Oklahoma. Great! There’s just an actor, or actress.

The documentary theatre is very much needed now – it is both reflection and psychotherapy. I thought I knew a lot about life in the occupation, I read about it. The Russian army allowed to leave Kherson only when it allowed. There were no corridors, the Red Cross did not work – they just discredited themselves completely. One actress simply got on the bus and drove to Ivano-Frankivsk. But we know a couple – Ruslan Vyshnevetskyi and Zhenechka Kirsanova. They wiped everything from their phones, only one photo card remained from the rally, where they were standing with the sign «Kherson is Ukraine.» Because of it, their eleven-year-old child sat in a car with strangers, and they were interrogated for three and a half hours, [the Russians] wanted to shoot them for this photo. People have been trying to leave for a month. But... there is a ten-kilometer line, sometimes shelling of cars, sometimes shelling from above, sometimes the wheels are shot through, then they let – don’t let you out. There were humiliations and some other moments. When they tell it, they always cry. They say that when they were returning, at one of the checkpoints near Kherson there was a toilet in which these «orcs» threw our yellow-blue flag on the floor. Zhenechka recalled: «I could not raise this flag... You return home and you are like the flag on which one wiped his feet. You can’t do anything near the muzzle of a machine gun. All these days, they just poured shit on you. It’s such a powerlessness, it’s such a horror.» These stories must be told, they must be shown. But when you hear now again «there is no funding, we can’t do it»...

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We have such narratives when we say that it is necessary to destroy all of Russia so that there are no Russians. It won’t be like that, because there are 140 million of them, and, in addition to Russia, they live in America, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia – wherever they could leave. They still sow their culture or pseudo-culture. But they are there, they are a multi-million people. I will not say that they are a nation, because they have not become it. As Yaroslav Hrytsak wrote: a cluttered forest is the people, and there are gardeners – these are artists, writers, politicians and the clergy, which trims it all, turns it into a beautiful garden. Then, this people becomes a nation.

It seems to me that the whole problem of Russian intellectuals is that in the end, they all either went crazy, became absolute cynics, or got drunk.

I always give the example of Lia Akhedzhakova. Yes, she was born in Ukraine, but it was back in the Soviet period. Still, this person has not gone crazy and is not afraid. She was threatened with physical violence, cancelled performances in Moscow. Do you remember that in 2014, there was such a «Theater.doc» in Kyiv, where our well-known playwrights Maksym Kurochkin and Natalka Vorozhbyt wrote plays? A hall with forty seats, performances about the war, documentaries, and some other testimonies about the Maidan. And every time, the firemen or someone else arrived there. That is, they were afraid that forty viewers would hear something so true and take this information somewhere. How long was this regime to be maintained?!

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I believe that this country will remain our neighbour, even geographically. And only they will change the regime inside. Not as they shout, that the Americans will do something – no one but them. And after some time, we will still have to live with those conscious people like Akhedzhakova, to hold these bridges. And even through us to overwhelm their regime. Maybe yes, because we would like to.

And one more thing. The boys from the front always say and write to me personally: «Don’t say that they are weak, the orcs.» I always write «Russian army», even in social networks. I don’t write nonsense, I call everything by its name, so that any foreigner who reads my post with Google Translate won’t look for who I’m writing about. I write specifically: Russia, the Russian army, Putin, the president – all these narratives. The guys say: «Don’t write that they are fools. Because if they are so weak, and we have not been able to win for almost a year, then who are we?» They have weapons... I watched the movie «Collapse». This is a documentary project of «Suspilne» media, consisting of seven series. It is about the period of the SCSE coup. There is also about military history, the «disarmament race», how we saw all these missiles, planes, bombs. What we did, how we surrendered, sold out... I also believe that every minister attached to these, for instance, the Kharkiv agreements, should bear criminal responsibility. 

But there is also a good point. This war, like the First World War, is mixing the West and the East. This is something we haven’t had in thirty years.

It is mixing, but I think about something else. My actor friends from Kherson and I made a documentary play in Kyiv about their life during the occupation. These are real stories recorded on a dictaphone. Every actor except me is real, and I am telling someone else’s story. Those who are returning now: some cooperated with the enemy, some cooperated because the barrel of the machine gun was near him or his child. And how to define all this? The most terrible thing is that our actress’s brother died, she and her mother took a DNA test and went to Dnipro. Her husband called me and said: «The body will be brought to Kyiv, there will be cremation, and then it will be delivered here. We have to pay six thousand hryvnias.» It was luckily that I didn’t know what and where, so I gave the phone number of my volunteer friend. Then they called me and said that, as it turned out, this all is done for free. That is, who dared [to make profit from it]? These people are close! As they say in Kherson: «We are so happy that Ukraine has come. No matter that the humanitarian aid is already being sold at the market.» How to live with these people? Here you will not prove that they are not lesser enemies, because they are destroying. As I say, when you shoot a bad movie with state money, you destroy Ukrainian culture no less than the bombs that fall on the Prymachenko Museum.

This is a big problem, a big question. I remember how the Japanese reduced prices or gave out housing for free when there was an accident in Fukushima. Many people were left temporarily without housing. Or we are very often referring to the example of Israel, but here is an important point: Israel was built by those Jews who decided to devote their lives to the revival of the language.

They didn’t question the importance of language, that I they will not learn the it because «it’s more convenient for them [to talk a different one].»

... and the revival of the state. Those who were not ready simply did not go, they just stayed in the United States, or in other countries.


The problem is that we now have just as many people who have left the country. We don’t know if they will come back. Another question is whether we want them all back? Do you have questions about what to do with Crimea? It’s as if this should be the finishing distance or victory point in this war.

Yes. Of course, not everyone will return. I would be happy if people returned with the best European achievements and traditions, starting with sorting garbage and smiles instead of rudeness. Yes, I would very much like these people to return, perhaps with an education, with the awareness that society can organize itself and do something, and not expect something from the king-father. It’s not a fact that all these people will find work here. Then there will be an outflow again. I mean, employment and everything else. Germany was rebuilt thanks to the Turks, that’s why there are so many of them there. Maybe I would give some objects to be rebuilt by someone but us.

When we will see all this, when we will learn the whole truth, all the numbers... We have 22 thousand in Mariupol – and it’s only the official outdated data on victims among the civilian population. We all need a psychologist. People who survived the war in Yugoslavia say: «Thanks to our experience, you now have the opportunity to get programs on how to move, not wait.» I always say: «Don’t expect what we will do after victory. Do it already!»

During this entire period, I cannot listen to music or watch movies. For the first two months, I could not talk on the phone, except for work. When I started watching movies, it was a movie about Sarajevo, after which I was «covered», then another one... At one of the Kyiv festivals, there was the movie «The Happiest Man in the World», I really liked it. This is what awaits us. 24 years after the events in Sarajevo, a man tries to meet a woman. They meet, this is a premarital acquaintance. Some hotel, a huge hall, many couples are sitting there – this is the acquaintance of those who are over 40. And then, we find out that the hero, at the age of eighteen, fired the first shot from a tank at the apartment of the heroine, who was sixteen. After that, she was in a coma for six days. He atones for this sin, tries all his life to find her, to explain, to apologize, to say that after that, the shots were already usual, the everyday thing. But this first one he remembered for the rest of his life. Then the brother of this girl-heroine also died. We will live with such people... Or like in the Kherson theatre: there the watchman became the director of the «Russian theatre» and distributed interviews. And he ran away. One of the actresses, People’s Artist of Ukraine, sang on Red Square when this pseudo-union took place. It’s terrible.

But we always knew that we have many people who do not like Ukraine, Ukrainian things.

I asked my Kherson colleagues: «Do you have any premieres there and anything else after the premieres? There always is. The first Maidan determined it, the second Maidan did too... One elections, the second one, everything was already clear.» I understood everything in my environment. I ask: «Didn’t you know?» And they said to me: «No, he behaved like this at the beginning of the war, and then in different way, and then...» Well, I don’t even know what words can be used to describe it, what it can be called, except «prostitution.» There is not even such a word.

Andrii Saichuk spoke

Text: Marichka Ilyina, translated by Vitalii Holich

Full or partial republication of the text without the written consent of the editors is prohibited and considered a violation of copyright.

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