Edmonton’s Pyretic Productions bring Blood of Our Soil, a pressing story of a forgotten land
First Stalin, then Hitler, and now, Putin. Ukraine’s history is one ripe with turmoil, propaganda, and conflict. Pyretic Productions, a local theatre company, recently took a trip to the Ukraine to research Blood of Our Soil, a play they’ve been slowly putting together for more than five years after playwright and actress Lianna Makuch found her grandmother’s journal.
The journal details Ukrainian experiences living under the Bolsheviks and later the Germans, escaping the Holocaust Death Squads after World War II broke out. Makuch felt an urgency to share the incredible stories.
“One of the lines in it was: ‘How can our land not but be fertile when so much blood, both Ukrainian and foreign, has continually seeped into it? It shows that our enemies must love our land more than we do, for they fight for it ceaselessly, while we live to see that moment when our people join the circle of free nations,’ which she wrote over 70 years ago,” Makuch points out.
A second-generation Ukrainian, benefiting directly from her grandmother’s heartwrenching courage to leave her home country—a country still fraught with conflict today—Makuch quickly saw that there was more to tell beyond the journal’s stories.
“If she hadn’t left, that could have been me, because people in the Ukraine are still fleeing their homes,” she says.
Roughly a year after finding the journal, the Euromaidan protests (November of 2013) broke out in Ukraine against then President Viktor Yanukovych’s last minute decision to sign an agreement bringing the country closer to Russia than to the rest of Europe—the original plans conveyed by his government.
“The revolution occurred for three months. It was actually just the four-year anniversary of the deadliest battles on Maidan from the 18th to the 20th [of Feb.],” Makuch says. “When all of that was happening, those lines of my grandmother’s journal kept ringing through my head; it still rings true even now, generations later: ‘Will we live to see that moment when our people join the circle of free nations?’”
Blood of Our Soil incorporates both autobiographical and historical elements from the journal as well as research gathered from the three-week trip to Ukraine last fall.
“We realized that in order for us as artists to do it justice, we needed to go there,” says Pyretic partner and director Patrick Lundeen.
Making connections on the ground through contacts in the Edmonton Ukrainian community, the Pyretic team found a fixer on the ground that spoke Ukrainian for the majority of places they visited, and Russian for the eastern regions touched by conflict. Their fixer, Pavel, also provided connections to locals that would otherwise be difficult to approach and gain the trust of.
“We were there to collect the stories of the people, not the governments, not the politicians, but the actual people who are affected by this conflict.”
The result was a hard drive full of video, which will be used in the production, and books full of notes and stories from the Ukrainian people.
“We went to a forest where Stalin buried the bodies of people who ‘disappeared in the night,” Makuch says, “or a salt mine just down the street from my grandmother’s home where Soviets dumped the bodies of people.”
Just when you’d think the play couldn’t get any more thorough, Pyretic has added several artistic disciplines to the piece to add even more layers of depth and greater understanding.
“There’s movement, there’s a fusion of contemporary and Ukrainian dance, there’s traditional Ukrainian music, there’s also digital sounds, there’s an amazing projection design,” Lundeen says, “and so all of these different elements kind of weave into what was last year, just one person talking.”
Pyretic Productions did a workshop of the show one year ago, which primarily covers Act I of the play, to get an idea of the direction they’d like the final piece to take. What they soon realized was that beyond Makuch’s grandmother’s story, Pyretic wanted to tell only a piece of the long and tragic history of Ukraine leading up to the recent conflict and silent occupation happening now through the eyes of those they met while there, and those still living it today.
“A lot of people have no awareness that there is a conflict happening in Ukraine now at the hands of Russian aggression,” Makuch says. “We’re into year four now [since Euromaidan], and it’s just sort of faded into the background. It’s not hot news when it’s just the simmering embers, yet people are still dying.”
The hope is for the play to tell a more human story, but also to increase awareness of the potential effect of Russian aggression, not only on Ukraine, but on the global community. There will also be a panel discussion on March 2 discussing the frozen conflict in Ukraine in a global context.
Thu., Mar. 1 – Fri., Mar. 9 (7:30 pm)
Blood of Our Soil