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The show must go on for Ukrainian director conscripted for war ahead of opening night


Kyiv, Ukraine — The show must go on, even when its Ukrainian director is drafted into the military weeks before opening night.

“Silence, Silence, Silence, Please,” a play that tackles Russia’s war in Ukraine made its world debut in Portugal last week, but its chief creator was noticeably absent from the audience.

Pavlo Yurov had wanted to be there. Weeks before the opening, he had gone to get special documents that would allow him to take a trip out of Ukraine. Men of fighting age are not allowed to leave, but there are exceptions and Yurov, 43, is expected to receive a pass to watch his own show.

Instead, he was drafted into the Ukrainian National Guard and is now a press officer attached to a brigade preparing to take part in a much-anticipated counter-offensive.

So Yurov had no choice but to stay, while his actors took to the stage in the Portuguese city of Coimbra and performed, and his name flashed in the neon lights outside theater halls.

The piece is art imitating life. Drawn from the real experiences of Ukrainians living under constant bombardment and enduring Russian occupation, it touches on the lives of soldiers and paramedics working on the front lines of war, and volunteers bringing humanitarian aid to the population.

But Yurov wanted the piece to touch the audience in a deep and immersive way. The show forces audiences to come to terms with the psychological toll of being exposed to constant artillery fire and inhabiting life in survival mode.

“My goal is to kind of allow the public to feel the mental and physical conditions and states of people who are going through this,” Yurov told The Associated Press in Kyiv.

The play was originally staged in 2020. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Yurov decided to rewrite it to reflect recent, real-life developments.

“I hope a lot of people in the audience, for the duration of this play, will feel what it’s like to be in this situation,” he said.

For the actors, performing in the play was both surreal – the themes were so close to home – and therapeutic.

“I play a woman who has to leave the territory which is under threat of being occupied, and then it is actually occupied.” said 37-year-old Ukrainian actress Oksana Leuta. “I can tell you that for me it’s special, because I chose not to leave the country and I have different, mixed feelings towards those who left.”


Alves brought from Coimbra, Portugal


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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.