CANMORE – While Barvinok is set in Ukraine in 2017, its story is all the more impactful and relevant in 2022.
Inspired by the journals her grandmother kept during the Second World War, Lianna Makuch wrote Barvinok to tell a personal story of the experience of war, both past and present. In reading the journals, Makuch found the sentiments her grandmother shared 70 years ago are the same sentiments people were sharing in Ukraine at the time during the Revolution of Dignity in February 2014.
“The play takes place in 2017, just three years after Russia’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine,” Makuch said. “It is about a woman, Hania, who is taking care of her aging grandmother.”
In the play, Hania’s grandmother has moved into a long-term care centre. She is agitated, confused and something from her past is haunting her.
“She asks Hania to return to their Ukrainian homeland to seek out a missing piece of their family history,” Makuch said. “She returns to Ukraine and finds herself on the edge of an ongoing war. She meets people and is confronted with the truth of her grandmother’s past.”
Travelling to Ukraine is exactly what Makuch did, first in 2017, then again in 2018. She interviewed dozens of people impacted by the ongoing war, which helped her with writing the play.
“Even though the play takes place in 2017, it is more relevant than ever,” Makuch said. “The war has been ongoing since 2014. When I started writing this play, so many people didn’t even know a war was happening in eastern Ukraine.”
The play’s first iteration was produced in Edmonton in 2018, then in Toronto in 2019. After that, the play’s tour was put on hold because of COVID-19.
“Since that happened, the world has escalated and Russia has launched the full-scale invasion,” Makuch said.
The first part of the play, which takes plance in Canada, explores the relationship with Hania’s grandmother and mirrors Makuch’s own discovery of her grandmother’s life through journals.
“She reads through her grandmother’s journal and learns about her grandmother’s journey through the Second World War,” Makuch said. “In the same way the Second World War helped us understand the situation in Ukraine in 2017, I really think now the play’s discussion about the war in 2017 really helps us understand the situation now.”
In the spring, Ukraine was the main topic of news in the western world, but since then, coverage has ebbed and flowed as the world moves on. Makuch hopes her play gets the struggle of Ukraine back into the minds of Canadians.
“People’s focus drifts away from what happens in Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean the war has ended by any means,” Makuch said. “The nuclear threat is extremely high. The war is not over. Ukraine is doing extremely well in its counter-offensive, but the aggressor counts on our attentions waning and the West forgetting about Ukraine.”
Since the first performance, Makuch says people have found it extremely meaningful.
“It has been directly meaningful to the Ukrainian community but people from many walks of life have connected with the story,” Makuch said. “[Especially] anyone who has a relationship with immigration displacement and is going through the learning of your past to understand who you are now.”
While the play is about the Ukrainian people, it is something that people of all heritages can find something in.
“This show is not just for Ukrainians,” Makuch said. “What I hope people get from this is an emotional understanding of the vast geopolitical situations that can mean very little when you read it in black and white.”
Since it was first performed in 2019, and with the changing world, the play has been reapproached. It is essentially the same script, but it is a new iteration of the show now.
Makuch is also excited about the performance at artsPlace in Canmore due to the area’s long history with Ukrainians, including an art fundraiser early in the war that donated funds to help Ukrainians.
“That was meaningful and touching that people cared in the community,” Makuch said. “There is also the connection with the Ukrainian internment camps outside of Banff. There is Ukrainian history and roots in the Canmore and surrounding community.”
Tickets are $35 each, or $29.75 for artsPlace members. Barvinok will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 and 7 at artsPlace in Canmore.