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article imageUkraine teens pen plays to bridge war divide

By Dmytro GORSHKOV (AFP)     Jul 23, 2018 in Entertainment

A boy flees his war-scarred hometown, leaving his mother behind. A gay youth struggles for acceptance from his parents. A gang harasses a young black footballer.

These and other dramas took centre stage in a show in Kiev this month, which brought together teenagers from the east and west of Ukraine to write plays.

"It is moving," said 15-year-old Filip Kazlauskas, who wrote one of the pieces, a rock opera entitled "Romeo from Avdiivka".

"I wanted to achieve the effect of making audiences sad and making them burst into tears."

The play is named after the teenager's eastern hometown, which lies on the frontline of the conflict dividing the country.

Performed by professional actors, it won a standing ovation from the audience.

But the event was really about the young playwrights -- in a bid to bridge the cultural divide in the war-scarred country.

"When young playwrights from different parts of the country meet and find common themes  then d...
"When young playwrights from different parts of the country meet and find common themes, then dialogue emerges, and an understanding that they have much in common," said project curator Natalya Vorozhbyt
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

"This project positively affects the future... it establishes a dialogue between the east and west" of Ukraine, one of the organisers, Natalya Vorozhbyt, told AFP as spectators filed into the auditorium in Kiev city centre.

"When young playwrights from different parts of the country meet and find common themes, then dialogue emerges, and an understanding that they have much in common."

- Backdrop of war -

The "Class Act" theatre project was born three decades ago in Scotland and has migrated to various countries. It first came to Ukraine in 2016.

Twenty pupils aged 14 to 16 came to Kiev from Avdiivka, a government-controlled eastern town, and from the western town of Chop.

The 10 short plays they devised were produced by professional directors and staged back-to-back.

"We worked very easily " said Valentyn Yelizaryev  also 15. "I've learned a lot ...
"We worked very easily," said Valentyn Yelizaryev, also 15. "I've learned a lot from being here"
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

"We worked very easily," Valentyn Yelizaryev, a 15-year-old from Chop, told AFP.

"I really liked it, I've learned a lot from being here."

In post-Soviet Ukraine, cultural differences persist between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the mainly Russian-speaking east.

A Moscow-backed insurgency broke out in two industrial eastern provinces in 2014 and has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

That is the backdrop for "Romeo from Avdiivka".

The government-controlled town of 20,000 inhabitants lies right on the frontline. It suffers near-daily armed clashes between Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels.

"A son fled the country but his mother opted to stay there as the war rages," says Kazlauskas, the young playwright.

Like his protagonist, he himself got away from the war zone -- if only for a week of rehearsals and a one-off performance with the "Class Act" professionals.

"The very fact that these children are studying under the influence of playwrights gives us hop...
"The very fact that these children are studying under the influence of playwrights gives us hope that a new intellectual generation can grow up," said one of the professional actors involved, Oleksiy Vertynskyi "If it helps even half of them decide on their future, that would be great."
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

"The very fact that these children are going to Kiev, that they are studying under the influence of playwrights... gives us hope that a new intellectual generation can grow up," said one of the actors involved, Oleksiy Vertynskyi.

"If it helps even half of them decide on their future, that would be great."

- Jailed filmmaker's blessing -

The project won praise from one of the most prominent artistic figures caught up in the conflict, Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov.

He wished the teenagers good luck in a letter published online by a friend.

Sentsov, who is being held in a remote Russian prison, has been on hunger strike for more than two months after being jailed for alleged terrorism in Russian-annexed Crimea.

But he insists he is a political prisoner.

The project won praise from jailed Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov. At the end of the show  eve...
The project won praise from jailed Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov. At the end of the show, everyone involved in the performances went onstage and held up signs saying #FreeSentsov
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

At the end of the show in Kiev, everyone who had been involved in the performances went onstage and held up signs saying #FreeSentsov.

Despite the regional and cultural divide, the participants are "so similar in our differences", Pavlo Arie, one of the project's directors, told AFP.

"Young people get the belief that they are worth something and that they can do something beautiful."

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