How Ukrainian and Roma activists gathered to reflect together on the topic of war. And they created a documentary performance about the lost Home.
Dreams about a sniper
“I often dream that I’m a great sniper. And then I dream that I’m going and shooting russians,” says one of the actresses on the stage of the Berlin “Tak” Theater. A full hall of spectators stares intently at the theatrical action, silently listening and observing the movements and speech of the actresses. Some of the spectators have headphones and can hear the simultaneous English interpreting. And they continue to watch every act of the performance
The documentary performance “From Home to Home”, which was created jointly with the organization of Roma Culture “Arca” and the Inclusive Theatre Association “Art-Playback” was created during the Russia-Ukraine war, documenting and recording the most traumatic experience of Ukrainians during the Russian aggression.
Preserve memory and record history
As the director of the documentary performance, Nata Vainilovych, says, “From Home to Home” is the first attempt to show the experience of Ukrainian and Roma women during the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories. It is about losing home, moving, emigrating and accepting the new reality of war. A unique socio-political performance that actualizes and popularizes the collective knowledge of how different communities in Ukraine experience life during the war that began on the 24th of February as a result of the full-scale invasion of Russia. The documentary performance, created together with Ukrainian and Roma women, is the first attempt to document and preserve the memory of the historical event taking place in Ukraine today, based on the testimonies of Ukrainian and Roma women who, as a result of the war in Ukraine, were faced with a difficult choice: to stay at their native home or look for another. Some of them have lost their walls, some are building new ones, and some are still at a crossroads.
The creation of a documentary theatrical testimony took place in several stages. At first, all the participants met for the first time in the German city of Heidelberg, where they tried to reflect on the complex traumas they had experienced – loss of home and war. Therefore, documentary stories were collected here – interviews of participants and donors’ stories, where each of the Ukrainian and Roma women was able to tell more deeply their story – the escape from Russian aggression. Later, this experience was sublimated into a certain artistic interpretation – a documentary performance. The actresses who played the premiere in Berlin are mostly not professional actors. Some of them were those who shared their story for the first time, but for the audience, they were not telling their own experiences, but those of others. The principle of the documentary performance is that all the participants of the performance tell the story of the donors in the most natural way. There is no theatrical play, heavy and large-scale scenery, but there is authenticity, the nudity of the word. And a lot of empathy. In a sense, it is not even a theater play, but rather documentary testimony of a certain history or situation that society is experiencing now.
Documentary theater as testimony of modern history
Nata Vainilovych, the director of the performance, says that while processing the interviews of all the participants, she tried to adapt them to the audience’s perception as much as possible and convey to the audience as best and as delicately as possible what the heroine of the play “From Home to Home” was experiencing. It was especially difficult to implement this coherent story for a foreign audience. Even if there was a simultaneous interpreting of the action during the premiere, it was still important to preserve a certain authenticity of the Ukrainian language, since language and the verbal component are one of the main elements of documentary theater.
Survive the occupation and play in a performance about a home that doesn’t exist
Two actresses walk in the hall among the audience. One of them sings acoustically the Roma folk song “Gelem, Gelem”. This is Nelia Kokul, the actress of the performance “From Home to Home”, a Roma by origin, who experienced the Russian occupation in Nova Kakhovka, but who miraculously managed to leave the occupied city and emigrated to Germany with her young son. On the other hand, the sounds of the ancient Ukrainian song about the red viburnum are heard, the meaning of which today acquires a new interpretation.
“I joined the performance about the lost home of Ukrainians and Roma, so that the world could hear more about how Ukrainians are currently suffering from Russian aggression,” says Nelia Kokul, having just played the play. Her brother Yanush is sitting next to her. He also lived for a long time under occupation in the Kherson region, was sent to an enemy in filtration camp, but one day he left the occupation city and now lives in Germany. For Nelia, this is the first theatrical experience of this kind, so she is embarrassed when discussing the performance. However, the experience of the documentary performance is an important reflection for her for a certain rethinking of what happened to her family and country.
A performance about home as a way of personal therapy
Anastasiia Tambovtseva is one of the actresses and donors of stories. Before the war, she was engaged in private practice in the field of education, researching the issue of obtaining education among the Roma population, worked on the creation of educational materials in the Roma language.
Anastasia’s life completely changed on the 24th of February, 2022. The girl was forced to evacuate from Kyiv to a safer area, so she moved to Romania in order to survive the difficult experiences of war, displacement and loss of home. She had to save herself from the trauma in various ways. One of them is participation in the documentary performance “From Home to Home”.
“I joined the project on documentary testimony of Roma and Ukrainian women who survived the war, together with the ARCA organization in a picturesque mountain town near Heidelberg. There, in addition to psychological and moral support, we shared our own experiences. And later, these stories became the basis of a documentary theater, a performance called “From Home to Home”. At first, I was worried and had some doubts about participating, as I felt a great responsibility. The topic of war is very acute and painful. But after discussing certain important issues for me with the director, I finally agreed,” says Anastasia.
In autumn 2022, the entire cast met in the city of Drohobych, where we worked on the performance for a week. And already in December, we met again in the capital of Germany – Berlin. Here, for the first time, we showed our reflections on the developed material of the performance.
“I especially liked the idea of the script, that all the stories are intertwined into one, each actress played several people, but we didn’t play ourselves. During the performance, it felt like a “reunion” with the audience – we all became participants in the performance. I am grateful to “ARCA” and “Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma” for the organization and implementation of this project, and for the invitation to participate in it,” concludes Anastasia.
Listen, keep silent, and speak
During the premiere, both German and Ukrainian spectators gathered in the Berlin theater. After the two-hour performance, the audience had the opportunity to communicate with the director and actors of the performance. Here, everyone present expressed their thoughts and feelings about what they heard. Some were crying. Some were keeping silent. Everyone was thinking about the war and about its traumas for all of us. The documentary performance “From Home to Home” reminded us once again of the difficult experience of the times we are living in now.
“It was hard to watch. It was very hard. But that was all natural. No playing for an audience. It was impressive. I have had this experience over and over again. We all felt that at the beginning of the war. Even the men who sat in the hall and watched the performance cried. This experience cannot be forgotten. I remind myself of this every time. We will be talking, thinking, and listening about this for a very long time,” says Klavdiia Storozhko. She was one of the spectators in the hall. And is one of those whose story was taken as the basis of documentary. “And it seems to me that those foreigners who were sitting in the hall, they are also much imbued with story. They understood a lot, they shared with us the experience of the war, which is still going on, and which we all carry inside us,” continues Ms. Klavdiia. She is a resident of the city of Okhtyrka. During the war and Russian aggression, Klavdiia Storozhko lived in Okhtyrka for a long time and did not want to leave her home. She waited until the last moment. In the end, she was evacuated to the Uzhhorod shelter. During the performance in Berlin, she again talks about an experience she cannot forget. And the next day, Ms. Klavdiia will return to her native home again. To Okhtyrka.
Author: Marianna Maksymova
Photo: Delfin Lakatosz