Donbass stories – Roma e Oxsana

by Giorgio Bianchi

Despite power cuts, a shutdown of all businesses, curfews, and nearly daily shelling, residents of the rebel-held city of Donetsk flock to the Opera and Ballet Theater on weekends in search of respite from the reality of life within a battle zone. When war broke out around a third of the theater’s performers fled, including key singers and all four of its conductors. A further setback occurred when a wayward missile destroyed the warehouse where most of the stage sets were stored. The opera house was forced to close on July 2015 because of heavy clashes, then it recruited new staff and was again operative the following September. Despite the ongoing hostilities and challenging circumstances, audience figures at the 960-seat theater have been impressive since its reopening. In the ground floor cloakroom, camouflage military jackets hung among civilian furs and overcoats. Roma and Oxsana are two professional dancers working for the Donbass Opera Theatre. Married since 2013, their life spins around rehearsals, performances and exhausting physical trainings. Their routine calls for six work days and one day off, usually on Monday, often spent at home. Trained since very young in the theatre academy, they turn professional in 2007. With the outbreak of the civil war  in 2014, they move provisionally to St Petersburg by some colleagues, to return to Donetsk in 2015 almost in coincidence with the re-opening of the theatre. In the same year, a grad missile fired by the regular army hits a bus in front of their apartment building killing 13 people and injuring many others. Roma is among the first to rush to aid. From that day Oksana is subject to panic attacks that are triggered whenever she hears the roars of even faraway artillery explosions. Even if the two young don’t intend to leave their hometown at the moment, they don’t rule out the possibility of moving to Russia in case of an escalation of the war (Text by Giorgio Bianchi).