With today’s constant news cycle from sources both traditional and nontraditional, it’s easy to feel like you’re in information overload and to overlook or forget events that have disappeared from the recent information stream. With that in mind, it may be easy for many Canadians to forget there is a war that has been going on in Ukraine since 2014.
However, Lianna Makuch’s new play, Blood of Our Soil, sets to humanize that conflict, and help all audiences reflect on how their personal histories shape who they are today. Following a successful workshop production last year, Blood of Our Soil runs March 1 – 9 at the Westbury Theatre.
Blood of Our Soil is Lianna’s semi-autobiographical telling of the story of her grandparents fleeing the Bolsheviks and Nazis and coming to Canada and a look into the contemporary conflict in Ukraine. The play follows Hania, a Canadian woman, reflecting on her relationship with her grandmother, her grandmother’s struggles during World War II and her journey to her ancestral Ukranian homeland.
Lianna said the idea of the play was ignited five years ago by a chance discovery of her grandmother’s journal written while she was immigrating to Canada from Ukraine in WWII. “One part of the journal that struck me that she wrote 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 because they fight for it ceaselessly. Will we live to see that moment when our people join the circle of free nations?’ That was something she wrote 70 years ago as she was fleeing the Bolshevik and Nazi armies. Historically speaking, for centuries Ukraine has been the middle point between the east and west and has been a geographically advantageous place and has seen a lot of conflicts.”
When the contemporary conflict began in 2013, Lianna remembered what her grandmother had written in her journal and decided it was the right time to bring this story to the stage. “I wanted to bring my grandmother’s journal to life but also demonstrate how things in Ukraine – this is still happening in Ukraine generations later. It’s the same level of oppression and the same history is repeating itself. I am a second-generation Ukrainian-Canadian and grew up in the Ukrainian culture and this project has been the first time I’ve had the opportunity to where I’ve been able to blend my artistic career and my Ukranian cultural identity.”
After last year’s successful workshop production of Blood of Our Soil, which resulted in MP Linda Duncan making mention of it during a speech in Parliament about Canada’s role in the conflict in Ukraine, Lianna was encouraged to continue developing the play, but, “I felt that I couldn’t continue writing unless I went to Ukraine to understand. It’s one thing to hear about something on the news or read articles, but it’s always through someone else’s lens or experience and that’s not what this play is about. So [Director] Patrick Lundeen and [Dramaturg] Matthew Mackenzie, my Pyretic Production partners, went to Ukraine… Everywhere in the country, there is the undercurrent of the conflict, even though in some places it’s hard to believe it’s happening.”
As part of the team’s Ukrainian travels, they met with Ukrainians who had been displaced by the conflict, the Communications Director of the Donbass region where the war is occurring, veterans, the operators of an orphanage and more. Lianna says the people the team met with opened up to her in a way that helped shape and mold this new iteration of the story. “When people found out that we weren’t journalists, they were much more open with us, sharing their personal stories and feelings and a lot of people thanked us for coming and not forgetting them… The people we met on our trip inspired characters and content in this production. The second act is set in Ukraine and we meet the chorus and they come to life as characters who are inspired by the people we met. Almost everything in this play is based in facts – things I’ve heard, people’s stories, and it’s really transposed people’s accounts to bring it to life, much like how I brought my grandmother’s journal to life.”
As much as the story is rooted in past and present conflicts in Ukraine, Lianna says the story is universal. “We can look at our personal histories and how that forms our identities – how we’re born of our personal histories. I also want people to see the humanity and the individuals who are affected by conflicts all of the world, to personalize those conflicts when you hear about them on the news.”
To help audiences place the play in historical context, there will be an installation of the last 100 years of Ukranian history, curated by Marlee Yule.
A pre-show panel discussion will take place on March 2, featuring MP Linda Duncan and a veteran of the war in Eastern Ukraine, Dmytro Lavrenchuk.