When war enters a country, it destroys and affects every aspect of people’s lives. The Russian-Ukrainian war, declared by President Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022, resulted not only in the annihilation of a whole nation but also of Russia’s cultural layer. How does art survive in the midst of tyranny?

On June 29th, 2022, Russian film director Kirill Serebrennikov, who openly opposes the war, said that his theater, the Gogol Center, had been shuttered by an official decree.

“They decided to close the theater. For the position. For honesty. For attempting to get freedom. For the fact that all the months that the war has been going on, the actors in the theater, protesting against the war, do not go out to bow, ending each performance with the image of the dove of peace. For not removing my performances from the repertoire. For remaining decent people,” the director said.

For the country’s cultural figures and sympathizers, the closure of the Gogol Center has become a tremendous cultural tragedy. The theater was the epicenter of freedom in all of Russia because it was the only stage where criticism of the dictatorship and “traditional values” could be voiced frequently. 

On June 30th, the audience watched the theater’s final performance featuring a play titled “I do not participate in the war,” which was based on Yuri Levitansky’s poems. On the theater’s final day, the venue witnessed standing ovations from over a thousand spectators who, with tears in their eyes, bid farewell to Russia’s age of true theater.

Photo by: Vladislav Shatilo

After the theater’s closure, Serebrennikov’s name was removed from the brochure for the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater’s production of Ostrovsky’s play, “The Forest.” Opposite the column “director” in the program, the word “director” was written without revealing his identity. Following that, more directors and writers who opposed Russian military aggression in Ukraine were excluded from theater brochures across the country. 

“The West is trying to revive the unipolar world and ‘cancels’ everything Russian, 

everything that happened was a cancel culture, but Russia will eventually only get stronger,” said the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2022. Nevertheless, while Serebrennikov’s home country prohibits all of his work, the West welcomes him with open arms. Over the previous year, the director’s film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” was nominated for a Cannes Film Festival award and warmly received by the public, while his play “The Black Monk” inaugurated the Avignon Theater Festival. For the first time in its history, the festival opened with a performance by a non-French director based on a non-French play.

At this time, the director is working on a new production of the play “Barocco” at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, which will feature performers from both Germany and Russia. Despite his tremendous success in Europe, Serebrennikov is eager for the war to end so that he may return to Russia and continue enriching the country’s culture.