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Ukrainian Children Bring a Play From a Bomb Shelter to Brooklyn

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On Monday, in a converted Sunday school space in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, eight recently arrived children from Ukraine gathered on a pair of plinths and began singing.

Twelve-year-old Hanna Oneshchak, who plays the accordion, sang the Ukrainian folk song “Ta nema toho Mykyty” with seven others. Struck by their beauty, changes his mind.

“No matter how sad,” they sang in Ukrainian, “I will not go to American soil.”

The children, students of the School of Open-Minded Kids Studio Theater in Lviv, are rehearsing the song in advance of the two weekend performances of the play Mama Po Skaipu (“Mama on Skype”). I was. at the irondale center in Brooklyn. This will be the American premiere of his 80-minute show on Saturday and Sunday nights.

“We share feelings with Americans.” Anastasia Missiuha, 14 years old, said in English. And she hopes audiences will have a “better understanding of what’s going on in Ukraine.”

Staged in Ukrainian with English subtitles, the show is a series of seven monologues about family separation told from the perspective of children. Inspired by the mass exodus from post-collapse 1990s Ukraine. At that time, many men and women went abroad to work to support their families in their hometowns.

“Mom on Skype” first performed in a converted warehouse bomb shelter in Lviv, western Ukraine, in April, just two months after the Russian invasion began. There, it was directed by Oleg He Oneshchak, the father of her two children in the play, Hannah and Oleksiy, 7, and an arts teacher turned active-duty Ukrainian soldier. At that time.

“A lot of people were crying when we did it in Ukraine,” said 14-year-old Khrystyna Hniedko, one of the performers.

Now, kids ages 7 to 14 are performing in front of audiences in Brooklyn this weekend.

The idea for the visit came to Jim Niesen, artistic director of the Irondale Center, home of the non-profit theater company Irondale Ensemble Project, when he saw a photo essay about a performance in Ukraine in the New York Times in late April. I was.

“I was so inspired by them,” Niesen said in an interview at the theater this week.

He and the theater’s executive director, Terry Grace, tracked down Oneszczak on Facebook Messenger and pitched the idea.

Oneshak, the children, and their families were all enthusiastic about the idea. Grace and the Irondale team began raising money to pay for travel and lodging. And if you take it to Connecticut and Massachusetts, he said it’s about $40,000. (Oleg Oneshchak was unable to make the trip, but his wife, Maria Oneshchak, an actor and educator in theater programs, did.)

Most of the group’s meals have been donated, many staying at the homes of board members and others in Irondale.The offices of Senators Chuck Schumer and Rep. It also helped the group book visa appointments that are difficult to secure as so many people are leaving Ukraine before it arrives on the 22nd.

The generosity of other donors quickly swelled the travel itinerary to include a week-long performing arts summer camp in Connecticut. There, children taught American campers three Ukrainian folk songs. Go see The Lion King on Broadway. A visit to the Guggenheim Museum and Coney Island. Russ & Daughters bagel factory tour. Statue of Liberty Private Tour.

When we spoke at rehearsal on Monday, 12-year-old Valeriia Khozhempa said she was immediately surprised by the lack of air raid sirens.

“It’s a really beautiful life,” she said. “In Ukraine, there are so many aviation warnings.”

There was also a humorous attribute, Christina said: American politeness. “People always say ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Excuse me,'” she said. “I was surprised because everyone was so polite.”

The children began working on the show in January before they were forced to cancel rehearsals when Russia invaded Ukraine. families are being separated again. (Most Ukrainian men of military age between 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country.)

The theme of each monologue on the show is that parents, even if they are financially wise, do not realize how detrimental their decisions are to their children’s happiness. Money can’t make up for that.

Because of the language barrier and having to read subtitles, all the children are worried that the American audience will understand their message.

“I know it’s difficult,” said Anastasia. “But if they come, I hope they try to understand.”

All proceeds from this weekend’s show, as well as next week’s performances in Hartford, Connecticut, and Boston, will go to fighter planes the group hopes to buy for the Ukrainian military. About $1 million, says Oleg Oneshchak.)

Hannah Oneszczak, who sings a patriotic Ukrainian song she wrote, said she wants audiences to see not only the play, but the underlying message about war that the performers embody.

“The world sees this like a movie,” she said. “I want you to remember us”

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