Raising funds for Ukraine: theatre steps up. A play, a playwright, Pyretic Productions, and the Blyth Festival

Barvinok, Pyretic Productions. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It started with the discovery of a hand-written diary, the journal in which Lianna Makuch’s grandmother recorded her flight, on foot, from war-ravaged Ukraine in 1944. 

That wrenching chronicle, and an anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, inspired actor/playwright Makuch to write a play. In Barvinok, which premiered in Edmonton in 2018 as Blood of Our Soil (then ran at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto), Hania, like her creator Makuch a Ukrainian Canadian, returns to her beautiful but blood-soaked ancestral homeland on a quest, a journey of discovery.   

War has never stopped. It may have slipped off the world radar for a time, but it has never ended; it continues, ever more brutal, an escalating invasion that targets civilians. And now, Barvinok, researched on location in 2017 by the Pyretic Productions trio of Makuch, director Patrick Lundeen and dramaturge Matthew MacKenzie, is the vehicle of a fund-raising initiative on behalf of Ukraine launched by the Blyth Festival in southern Ontario. 

On Thursday a staged reading of Barvinok, by actors across the country including Makuch, goes up on Blyth’s YouTube channel for a month. And the Pyretic production, directed by Lundeen, is accompanied by full information on all humanitarian options for sharing resources and contributing to support for Ukraine, among them the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian-Ukrainian Foundation, LGBTQ groups like OutRight Action and Kyiv Pride. 

Lianna Makuch, creator of Barvinok (Blood of Our Soil). Photo by Mat Simpson. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Barvinok, which returns to Edmonton and tours Alberta in the fall, “is about a time and a place. But I’m not re-writing,” says Makuch, who made time for a call after a day in rehearsal for the Citadel’s upcoming production of Jane Eyre (she’s the assistant director). She explains Barvinok’s name change. The title is Ukrainian for periwinkle, “and a cultural symbol of eternity since it’s a flower that can withstand the harshest conditions. It reflects the Ukrainian resilience of spirit.” At her grandparents’ cottage in Ukraine, the garden was full of periwinkles. 

Makuch spends her evenings online in fund-raising meetings and contacting friends and family in Ukraine. “You can hear bombs are going off in Kyiv. But everyone I speak to in Ukraine is always so hopeful,” she says. “And I have hope too. I don’t see an end to Ukraine. But the high price of it…. ”

In the course of connecting with veterans in her 2017 research trip to Ukraine, and repeated trips thereafter interviewing veterans and displaced people, Makuch met a medic who shared her “very inspiring” story. “Alina was just 19 years old when she made her way to the front line, during one of its fiercest times, the battle for Donetsk Airport.

Now a close friend, Alina has inspired another Makuch play, Kitka (Ukrainian for cat), currently in progress. Makuch, unsurprisingly, hasn’t finalized the ending. It premieres in May in a Pyretic/ Punctuate! co-production at Fringe Theatre’s Studio Theatre in the TransAlta Arts Barn. 

The playwright assisted Alina and her mom in a dramatic exit from Kyiv, by connecting them with Canadian theatre artist Michael Rubenfeld, who’s currently living in Krakow, Poland. He’s invited them to stay. Makuch’s “grassroots initiative” to raise funds for Alina has resulted in donations from around the world. 

“Art has a place to tell a different kind of story,” says Makuch. “It connects through empathy, compassion, humanity.” The news is all about geo-politics. Art “tells a human story; it explores the full scope of human-ness.” 

Check the Blyth Festival website for Barvinok details. 



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