Acclaimed Ukrainian theatre company made lifelong friends when they played at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Now I fear for their safety – Steve Cardownie

Back in 1994 I had the privilege of facilitating the participation of the Ukrainian Theatre-on-Podil company in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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Set in Infirmary Street Baths, their adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello was well received by critics and the public alike. As patrons left the swimming pool at the end of the evening session, a small stage was erected in the water and Iago was all set.

Queues formed outside where they were provided with a synopsis of the play in English and then escorted to their seats around the pool.

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The play opened with two figures appearing at either end of the pool holding candles. At the shallow end, Desdemona whispered “Othello” and he responded by whispering her name.

She then blew out her candle and dived into the pool, gracefully swimming to the other end to be plucked out of the water, one-handed, by Othello, who then blew out his candle as they both departed into the darkness.

The play’s director, Vitaly Malakhov, watched with pride as his daughter, Dasha, made her acting debut as Desdemona.

Based in one of Kyiv’s oldest streets, which is also home to Saint Andrew’s Church, the company is lauded in the city for producing innovative plays and adaptations of some of the classics.

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The city of Kyiv is bracing itself for a major new attack by Vladimir Putin's forces (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)The city of Kyiv is bracing itself for a major new attack by Vladimir Putin's forces (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The city of Kyiv is bracing itself for a major new attack by Vladimir Putin's forces (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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The cast thoroughly enjoyed their time in Edinburgh, making three visits in total. In a performance of Pushkin’s A Feast in Time of Plague, I guested as a corpse in the opening scene.

Vitaly, in particular, enthused about the city and confided that to have his company perform at the Fringe Festival was one of the highlights of his career.

Lifelong friendships were established and many an evening was spent drinking vodka, eating pierogi and setting the world to rights.

Now there is a dark cloud hanging over Edinburgh’s twin city of Kyiv and I fear for their safety. Enemy Russian forces are amassing outside the city, intent on subjugating Ukraine and forcibly bringing it into the arms of that brutal regime.

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However, Ukraine, a country two-and-a-half times bigger than the UK, with a population of 44 million people, is determined to remain independent and has shown terrific, heroic resistance in the face of invading forces.

I wish Theatre-on-Podil all the best and hope that it will emerge from this nightmare unscathed.

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