An immersive Russian play that debuted in Russia’s Kaluga region on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2022, claims to depict earlier phases of the conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Actors wearing Ukrainian military uniforms violently captured audience members and shot them with what appeared to be prop assault rifles in the opening scenes of the play titled “Polite People.”
The play’s name is a colloquial term for the unmarked Russian troops who first emerged in Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict and took control of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
As the actors drag a female captive onstage, she can be heard yelling “it hurts” and “let go.”
The intention of the show’s creators is to demonstrate to the audience “what Donbas residents went through for eight years.” The show will be presented in 12 cities across Russia.
The audience was held “hostage” by actors dressed as Ukrainian special forces, according to local news reports, and blank rounds were fired into the air. Reports also state one of the “hostages” had his back “shot.”
Actor Vilen Babichev, who plays one of the Ukrainian soldiers, said in an interview on Nika TV that the play aims to show Russian audiences “the nature of the enemy that invaded our territories eight and a half years ago.”
President Vladimir Putin previously used unsupported allegations that Kyiv is committing genocide against Russian-speaking Donbas residents to justify Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine.
“Polite People” received a 10 million ruble ($164,000) presidential grant, according to the website of Russia’s Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives, after its creators submitted an application in January 2022 before Russia officially began its battle in Ukraine.
Roman Razum, a musician and film studio director from Luhansk, is the project’s creator. He stated that the goal of the initiative is to “create positive content to counteract negative content that carries an immoral ideology and counters the Russian cultural code.”
“We show that these aren’t just Ukrainian [soldiers], but fighters fully trained by NATO and supplied with weapons for many years,” Razum said to Nika TV interviewers.
After performances in four Russian cities and the occupied city of Luhansk in late October and early November, the play made its debut in Kaluga on Monday. It will tour of a few other Russian cities through the end of November.