At a Ukraine theatre, artists make dumplings for the front line

The theatre was empty. The seats were covered against dust. But it was a moment of drama that Alla Shkondina had prepared for all her life.

“There is a saying that when the guns sound, the muses are silent,” the Ukrainian actress said, standing on the bare stage with a shawl wrapped around her to protect against the chill.

“But we are not silent.”

Shkondina has retreated from the spotlight and now makes dumplings to send to soldiers, working alongside fellow artists in the cafe of a theatre in Drohobych, southwestern Ukraine.

It is one small part of a massive war effort by defiant volunteers across the country who often find themselves playing unexpected roles.

In the warmly lit cafe, where snack-bar popcorn has gone stale in the weeks since the Russian invasion, artists in this community are rolling and filling dough to add to the thousands of dumplings they have sent to the front, or to displaced people in need.

“We did more than 3,000 pounds of meatballs,” said theatre director Mykola Hnatenko. “One-hundred-fifty kilogrammes of stewed cabbage with meat. More than 10,000 varenyky (dumplings) with potato. 70 kilogrammes of filling for borscht, 80 kilogrammes of fried fish, 2,000 pancakes with meat, and 500 sweet pancakes. Now we’ve decided to do more food with proteins like meat.”

In the courtyard, men, their hands blackened with soot, chopped wood for the cooking fires, overseen by the theatre’s deputy director, Sergei Havdjak, dressed in military-style drab.

Hnatenko seemed especially proud of the borscht the volunteers sent to soldiers in places like the capital, Kyiv, where some areas have collapsed into brutal street-to-street fighting in near-freezing weather.

He showed a cellphone video of the distribution of food in Kyiv, with a smiling soldier flashing a “V” for victory sign.

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