Irma Vitovska on war, Ukrainian language, actors shooting with Russians, and her "skeletons in the closet". Exclusive interview
Leading Ukrainian actress and public figure Irma Vitovska is a representative of the cultural community that is working fervently for victory today. Irma was one of the first to refuse to work in films that were made with Russian money or that invited actors from Russia.
The artist anticipated the Russian invasion and its preparation for the great war. Read about this and much more in the interview with OBOZREVATEL.
Q: Irma, you once said in an interview that you knew that the war was inevitable.
A: I had no illusions. Since childhood, I have loved history and even wanted to become a historian. Since this subject is fascinating to me, I never stopped being interested and studying it. There is no Russia without Ukraine: this is their imperialistic position. Everyone realized that Russia would not let go us so easily. There were hopes for changes in the Russian Federation itself. However, after all the repressions that took place, including the murder of Nemtsov and others, it became clear that the regime was heading for despotic history. Freedom is a very distant word for that part of the territory. However, even after 2014, despite the conflict that had already taken place, we hoped that there would not be a major war. We hoped that they would not dare. It's the twenty-first century, and they go to Europe. This is impossible. As we see, it is possible.
When the probable dates of the offensive began to appear, I went to a training session. They taught me how to behave during military operations: they discussed psychological aspects and what should be in an emergency suitcase. It seems like an ordinary story, but I think everyone should have taken such classes. There, for example, I learned that one should not run to the suburbs during an offensive, because there is a high probability of it being occupied. But no one thought that their methods would be no different from past wars. We knew little about Syria, and read little about how they behaved in Chechnya. Perhaps someone thought that such cruelty would not be applied to Ukrainians under occupation. Myths about brotherhood still worked. But nothing has changed: what they did in the last century in different territories of Ukraine is being repeated today.
In the first days of the war, my husband, son, and I stayed in Kyiv. There was no panic, no fear. We then decided to take Orest to Ivano-Frankivsk because my parents were very worried. They said, "do as you wish, but bring the child". I was not going to leave the country. None of my family was going to. There was an opportunity, we got calls, but we didn't even think about it. Of course, one would have to be crazy to say that no one thought that we would have to leave the country in the worst-case scenario. At that time, none of us made such a decision. We had to focus on how we could help the frontline at this stage.
Q: Has the war changed you?
A: I think it changed everyone. I react to some things more calmly, while in other things I do not accept compromises, for example, in terms of language. In April, when I was promoting the Ukrainian-Italian film "Cosa Nostra" abroad, our displaced women came up to me. They apologized that they hadn't mastered the language yet, realizing that I was very categorical about it. Although they spoke Ukrainian poorly, they were on their way. It may be late, but it's a start. And how do you react when a woman says she is 80 and it's too late? When we gained independence, she was not even 50 yet. You say it was impossible to learn the language in 30 years? This is disrespectful.
Of course, all of this came from the top: it was allowed, even encouraged. It played into Russia's hands. Many people still have the habit of speaking Russian, and many of these people are patriots of the country. They say that the military also speaks Russian. But they don't have time to sit down with textbooks either. I believe that this must be stopped, we must integrate into our own language because it is not known what will happen to Russia in ten years. A generation that does not accept Ukrainian independence at all is growing there. Ignorance of the language will contribute to the fact that they will steal our culture and present it as theirs. If it's the same, it's all common, they say.
Q: When you traveled to Italy for the film Cosa Nostra, did you have a feeling that you were in another world that sympathizes with us but continues to live its life in peace?
A: Immediately after the invasion, the reality of peaceful life was quite toxic for me because I had already been in other energies, just like our whole society. It was hard for me. But I can't say that people triggered me somehow, no. It seemed to me that I was superfluous there. And I didn't want to be there because I was on other frequencies. But remember what we were like when Aleppo was burning in Syria? We sympathized but continued to live our lives. Now we are in this state. We have our own country, our own problems. People are helping as much as they can. Thank God we are not alone with this dinosaur. And yet everyone united around us.
Q: How do you feel about the actors who continued to shoot films with Russians despite the Russian aggression?
A: Our actors were involved in projects that were shot with Russian money for the common market. It was made here because it was cheaper. Of course, our actors were an add-on, they were cast in some roles. There was a lot of this content. Another story is co-production. In this case, most of the money came from Russia, and some from Ukrainian productions, a kind of business that worked for a common identity. This is described very well in the documentary series "The Last War" by Myroslava Barchuk, which I advise everyone to watch. The chapter "What's the Difference" is about this very thing.
But let's be honest: until 2014, Ukraine was not producing anything, and there were financial issues to be fixed and not fall out of the film process, so our actors provided their services. Absolutely everyone did it. But after 2014, after the outright aggression, after they started killing our people, everyone decided for themselves whether to leave or stay. Not as many actors left as we would have wanted. What was the motivation of the others? This is a question for everyone. I think it was frivolity or some kind of stranglehold. For example, a person cannot do anything else but act. I hardly believe that anyone did it because of creative motivation. Everything related to the television market can be hardly considered creative. It's just entertainment content. It's good that cinema didn't play this game, and after 2014 we had a film industry. But it couldn't satisfy all the actors as there weren't that many films. However, new movie stars have already been born. They haven't quite entered this field yet because of COVID-19 and the war, but we can already see our movies. This is the beginning of a good page.
Q: How do you feel about the statements of filmmakers that feature films are not relevant now?
A: I think that feature films are relevant, the only thing is that I don't support films that tell about today's genocide. You can make comedies as a therapeutic experience, good films about saving animals, about people who start over and don't break down. But I think that it is unacceptable to make films about crimes nowadays. World cinema has never made movies about genocide during a genocide. Time must pass, and evidence must be collected. The war is still going on.
Q: Then how can actors protect themselves from the situation that happened with the movie Yurik, where, as many people think, the events in Mariupol are not covered truthfully enough?
A: Actors cannot predict how the product will turn out, because they are involved only in a certain stage of work. This is a question for the creative team, authors, and producers. Some people sincerely believe in themselves, they go to work with the understanding that they will succeed... This can be compared to the following situation: someone urgently needs heart surgery, but there is no doctor. The nurse says she can do it. She sincerely wants to help, but nothing will come of it, right? That's the perspective we need to look at. We have no right to failure in terms of such films, meaning flat presentation or shallow content.
I believe that Rimma Ziubina, who played in this film, got into this story unconsciously. She had only two days of shooting there. How could she influence the process? Besides, each of us has our own failed stories. I also have many films in which I shouldn't have participated before 2014.
These films are mostly about love, I didn't perform in any propaganda stories. But now I realize that I am also guilty of blurring my identity. I wanted to work, but Ukraine was not producing anything. On the other hand, if you look at the list, I didn't have many works before 2014. As Lesya + Roma took a lot of time and I was followed by Lesya's trail, it probably didn't work in my favor. The last project that was connected with Russia was made in 2013. Rimma Ziubina was there too. When the story with Crimea started, we had to finish it. There was only one Russian actress in that movie.
Q: You mentioned Lesya + Roma. Do you keep in touch with Dmytro Lalenkov, who fiercely defended the Moscow Patriarchate and posted an ambiguous post on Instagram at the beginning of the invasion? (a photo with the flags of Ukraine and Russia)
A: We don't keep in touch much: we congratulate each other on holidays, and that's it. We don't talk every month. When the big war began, I called everyone asking how they were. Since then, we probably haven't heard from each other. But we are not enemies in any case. I will not speak badly of any of my colleagues or condemn them, why should I? What right do I have to judge someone? I'm not Jesus Christ. I also have my own skeletons in the closet. Everyone has a chance to make mistakes.
Dmytro was brought up in such a way, - with Russian literature, Russian drama theater, etc. - he was a completely Russian-speaking person. I watch him with interest on social media, I look at how he is discovering Ukraine for himself. He is gradually immersing himself as much as he can accept it. But the invasion has already made him Ukrainian. By the way, he has never been anti-Ukrainian. There were just some things that he believed in, and it's good that he is now rejecting them. But what can I say? Most of our population realized who the enemy really was only after the missile strikes.
Q: What advice would you give to people who now have to start over in their profession, in life, or in another country?
A: What advice can I give? It's easy to say: start over. But in the meantime, I realize that there is no other way. I have no right to complain, because I live where I lived, and someone had to give up everything. But if it had happened to me, what would I have done? I would have to start all over again. My voice would be gone, my health would fail, theaters would close, I wouldn't have any work, and we would start over. There is no other way out. Sit down and go gray? No. Someone in a trench starts their military career with a big business or a good education. But they chose to serve in a different capacity. Someone finds a refuge abroad and begins life in other realities. It's not our fault that everything has been reshaped. But this reshaping cannot be reversed. We will never be the same again. There will not be a carefree February 23, that's for sure. And there is no need to hold on to it. Let it remain in some tender memories because we will have to change more than once. We will be completely different even after the victory. Therefore, if you have a new day, appreciate it.
Q: How do you tell your son Orest about the war?
A: He already understands everything himself, so there is no need to tell him anything, choosing some specific words. He is 12, not five years old, a grown man. He went with us to see the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol. Why not? Teenagers need to know and understand what is happening. Many of them have already lost their lives in this war. We shouldn't hide children from reality, they shouldn't be cut off. Besides, they have to accept this country. They must understand their responsibility to those who are now losing themselves.
Q: The media wrote that your home was damaged by the rocket attack.
A: They hit our summer house that has not yet been completed. Thank God that it hit there, and not the neighboring houses where people already live. The apartment is fine.
Q: You once used to make rag dolls, which you put up for auction and then donated the money to the military. Do you have time for such work now?
Q: No, I don't do that now. It was in 2014. I learned it back in 2007, I think. And then I remembered it when I was thinking about where else to find money to help the guys. I had stopped filming at that time, and where could I get money? And I came up with this idea. Even though I was not able to raise as much money as I am giving now, it was also a way out. Only the dolls that I hadn't planned to auction off were left at home. I don't think they are in Kyiv as I took them to my mother's place during the war.
Q: Do you have any things at home that have been passed down from generation to generation?
A: I have an old iron and a coffee grinder. I have some things from my grandmother like jewelry, icons, and dishes. I can't say that it's anything too valuable. For example, a modest gold cross, but the fact that it comes from somewhere is valuable.
Q: Irma, how long will the war last?
A: I don't want to play the game that many different experts play. I cannot say. I don't think it will be quick. However, I am convinced that the Rubicon has been crossed. Whatever the cost, it will be a high price. But victory will come. We have no chance of losing. The world is with us. And God is with us.
Earlier, OBOZREVATEL wrote that actor Yevhen Nyshchuk, who serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, spoke about the most terrible moments at the front, night conversations with Ada Rohovtseva and the day when the victory will be announced.