Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Ukrainian circus stars who fled Vladimir Putin's bombs are winning standing ovations – Steve Cardownie
After reading about young Ukrainian circus performers making the perilous journey from Kyiv to the safe haven of Prague where they joined forces with a Czech circus group, Charlie Wood, the Underbelly director, was determined that his company should do all that it could to bring them over to this year’s Fringe Festival.
He entrusted the logistics of the move to Festival programmer, Aisling Galligan, who told me that she subsequently made contact with the group to invite them to Edinburgh and, after they indicated that they were delighted to accept, she started the arduous task of sorting out visas etc.
Their flights, accommodation and subsistence costs were all taken care of by Underbelly with the result that they are now staging their production of “Boom”, in collaboration with the Cirk La Putyka company from Prague, in the McEwan Hall.
I met with two of the cast, Kateryna and Oleksii, both 17 years old, who told me about their journey from Kyiv to Prague and the fear that they felt when travelling through Ukraine and how relieved they were when they were allowed to cross the Slovakian border to safety.
Now living in Edinburgh University student accommodation for the duration of their stay, their group took the opportunity to explore the city. Their delight at being here was obvious and they were full of praise for Edinburgh, describing it as “magic”. However, the plight of their loved ones still in Ukraine is never far from their minds and they hope to return to see them again soon.
They said that they never thought that the Russian invasion could happen in this day and age but were confident that their country would emerge victorious and that they would all go back once it was safe to do so.
They said that they were aware that there was growing opposition to the war within Russia itself, particularly among young people, but understood the reluctance to demonstrate for fear of being arrested and locked up. Despite the deprivations that their country is going through, they were optimistic about the future and that they would prevail.
Accompanied by live music, their story is told through a variety of circus disciplines, the Cyr wheel, aerial skills, hoops, Chinese pole and juggling as well as breakdancing, street dancing and other contemporary dance routines. The cast members are all young enthusiastic performers, eight from Ukraine and eight from the Czech Republic who command the attention of the audience through the skill and energy on display.
This afternoon’s performance will offer free entry to Ukrainian refugees residing here and promises to be an emotional experience for the cast who are looking forward to performing for their fellow citizens who, like them, have been forced to flee their homeland.
So far audiences have expressed their support by giving standing ovations which has had a profound impact on the young cast and it looks like they will return home with fond memories of Edinburgh and its festivals.
Tickets can be booked via the Underbelly website