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Show must go on for a Ukrainian director drafted for war ahead of opening night

KYIV, Ukraine — The show must go on, even when its Ukrainian director is drafted by the army weeks before opening night.

“Silence, Silence, Silence, Please,” a play that tackles Russia’s war in Ukraine had its world debut in Portugal last week, but it’s chief creator was conspicuously missing from among the packed audience.

Pavlo Yurov had meant to be there. Weeks before the opening, he had gone to get special documentation that would permit him to make a trip out of Ukraine. Men of fighting age are barred from leaving, but there are exceptions and Yurov, 43, expected to be given a pass to attend his own show.

Instead he was drafted by Ukraine’s National Guard and is now a press officer attached to a brigade preparing to participate in a much anticipated counteroffensive.

So Yurov had no choice but to stay, while his actors took to the stage in the Portuguese city of Coimbra and performed, and his name flashed in neon lights outside the theater halls.

The play is art imitating life. Drawn from real-life experiences of Ukrainians living under constant shelling and enduring Russian occupation, it touches on the lives of soldiers and paramedics working on the front lines of the war, and volunteers delivering humanitarian aid to the population.

But Yurov wanted the play to touch the audience in a deep and immersive way. The show forces the audience to confront the psychological toll of being exposed to constant artillery fire and of inhabiting life in survival mode.

“My goal is kind of to make it possible for the audience to feel the conditions and mental and physical states of the people who are experiencing this,” Yurov told The Associated Press in Kyiv.

The play was originally staged in 2020. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Yurov decided to rewrite it to reflect recent, real-life developments.

“I hope many people in the audience, for the … duration of this play, feel what it’s like to be inside this situation,” he said.

For the actors, performing in the play was both surreal — the themes were so close to home — and therapeutic.

“I’m playing a woman who has to leave the territory which is under the threat of being occupied, and then it is actually occupied.” said 37-year old Ukrainian actress Oksana Leuta. “I can tell you that for me it’s special, because I chose not to leave the country and I have different, mixed, feelings about those who left.”

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Alves reported from Coimbra, Portugal.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at

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