The Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia is regularly under fire. Last week, at least ten people were killed when a rocket hit an apartment building. The front line is only 40 kilometers away. Nevertheless, a circus performance takes place. War or not – the show must go on.
The dancers just reappear in a new outfit in the arena when the air raid alarm sounds. In the round, concrete building, the sound of the siren barely penetrates, but visitors can see it on a special app on their mobile phone.
Yet no one runs off. Children happily clap along to the beat of the music. Everyone remains seated, as if the war does not exist.
Right in the center of Zaporizhzhia, well before the Circus revue starts, the square in front of the circus theater comes to life. Families with young children stop by the cheerful stalls selling toys and sweets. They take selfies with the flying saucer-like theater in the background.
What is striking: children are usually accompanied by mothers or grandmothers. Many fathers have been drafted into the army.
Also striking: often the visitors do not come from Zaporizhzhia, but are people from other, hard-fought parts of Ukraine who have found temporary shelter here. Take the married couple Alena and Sergei, who fled from a place at the front. They are taking their three children to the circus for the second time. “It’s a moment of relaxation. Not being busy with the war for a while.” Sofia (13) likes the dog and cat show the most. Her brother Zahar (10) the clown.
Sergei and his children Sofia (13) and Zahar (10) are enjoying the show for the second time.Photo: Hans Jaap Melissen
Power failure or air raid alarm
Just before the show starts at the end of the morning, an announcement is made to remain seated in the event of a power failure: a generator will be started within a few minutes. But everything continues to work.
For more than two hours, a professional spectacle unfolds in front of an almost full house. Acrobats hang, unprotected, high in the rafters. There is a camel act, a cat that has to walk over dogs and a clown that invites people into the arena and plays pranks on them. There are also dancers, sometimes in lingerie, who look more like a nightclub act than a circus act.
Afterwards, dancer Nastya tells in the dressing room that the performance is a hodgepodge of loose circus acts from all over the country. She calls it “incredible and cool” to be able to perform again. They haven’t done that for a long time. “It’s so nice to make people feel good again. There are often people in the audience who have fled from other parts of the country.”
She knows that the air raid siren went off during the show. “But I’m not afraid. When we are busy with our performance, I don’t think about rockets. We turn a button and dance. That is also necessary: we want to give the audience a good atmosphere.”
The dancers of the ballet are all from Zaporizhzhia. For Valery, the war is always close anyway: her husband is a soldier. Doesn’t she think it’s strange that she’s dancing here while he’s fighting? “No, we try to make people happy. And I just earn my money with this, my share of the family income. Also, I’m less stressed about him when I’m busy here.”
She says it also offers a lot of distraction for her daughter Violetta, who is sitting on her phone in a corner of the dressing room with a happy face. “Thanks to the Ukrainian army, which keeps the enemy at bay, we can act here.”
Dancers Valery (left) and Nastya (middle) are happy to be able to perform again.Photo: Hans Jaap Melissen
Life is dangerous in Ukraine
The clown, Alexey Krasnik, also doesn’t mind doing his job while people are in the trenches down the road. “What else are you supposed to do, sit inside and eat? Life goes on.”
Krasnik is from Kyiv and was a bit worried about coming to Zaporizhzhia, which is closer to the frontline and is more often under attack than Kyiv. Yet he also thinks it is logical that the circus was not shut down when the air raid alarm went off. “If you stop and people have to go outside, a large part will not come back. Because you don’t know how long it will take before the signal comes safely – an hour or half a day. Life is dangerous in Ukraine.”
During this performance, a soldier in uniform sat in one of the front rows. Krasnik saw it. “That happens more often. I’ve also taken a soldier out of the audience and involved him in my act.”
The clown is afraid that the war will go on for a long time. He once enlisted in the army, but was told to wait until he was called up. He doesn’t believe the Russians and Ukrainians will ever get along as well as the dogs and cats on the show. “Too much has happened.”
For clown Alexey, the war is no reason to sit quietly at home. Photo: Hans Jaap Melissen
Victory show is going to be a big thing
Dancer Valery believes that Ukraine will win the war. When that happens, the circus comes with a special show. “It will be something big, something incredible. With references to victory in it. Oh yes, and may I add something? Russia is the terrorist state of the world. Glory to Ukraine!”
The circus has now emptied. Children were allowed to sit on the backs of the camels in the arena or to pet them. Alena and Sergei’s family has already gone outside. The sun shines. They may return for a third time.
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