"Russians learn lessons too": famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and "nasty" Russian actors

Kukuyuk starred with Olya Polyakova in Swingers

Mykhailo Kukuyuk is a theater and film actor and musician. He works at the Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theater. Since 2014, he has been giving concerts in support of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in military units and hospitals.

In a conversation with OBOZ.UA, the artist spoke about the mood of Ukrainian soldiers, possible predictions about the end of the war, and "nasty" Russian actors. We met with Mykhailo after another performance in the theater.

- How has your attitude to working changed after the war?

- I think that since 2014, the employees of our workshop have taken on more responsibility. We can't just recite some patriotic, victorious things, we need to distract Ukrainians in other ways, too, including with the help of performances on everyday topics and comedies. Then it's up to the critics to figure out whether it's appropriate or not. Our goal is to comfort them in the difficult time at least a little bit. Unfortunately, life will bring us back to reality as soon as we turn off the movie, the play or the song we just listened. In general, we, artists, are in a difficult position now: if you make a movie with an everyday theme, people say, "Are you crazy? There is a war going on!'. If you make a movie about the war, they will say, 'It's hard enough, and now you're making a movie about war.' But you have to do it. First of all, for the men who are not at the front.

- How do you feel about those men who went abroad when the invasion began?

- Those who fled abroad and are staying there, and then will come and teach us how to live... this is a separate story. How they fled is a question for the SSU and the prosecutor's office. These facts are known for the show business workers. I personally encountered some of them a few years ago when I participated in one of the entertainment TV shows.

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- We are probably talking about the Dancing with the Stars project, where you danced for eight shows and then refused to participate. How do you remember that work now?

- In general, we, the contestants, became friends. I didn't go to rehearsals, I ran. But I don't remember the jury ever praising my dance with my partner. In addition, conflicts arose from time to time. For example, I was once told that I had to go on the dance floor in a Soviet uniform to the song "Temnaya Noch" (Dark Night). The broadcast was scheduled for the first day of September. I said, "Haven't you forgotten what happened on this day in 1939?" And they began to push the narrative that 'our grandfathers fought'. I said, "My grandfather reached Berlin, but what's the point?"

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- How are your relations with the TV channel now? The singer Dantes wrote a few lines about the journalists who defended Kolomoisky in court, and, according to him, because of this, he was denied participation in a Christmas concert filmed by the TV channel.

- Our relationship is like margarine: neither good nor bad. They broadcast movies with my participation - "Servant of the People" and the same "Swingers" - that are often shown on New Year's Eve.

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- You and your colleagues travel to the frontline to give speeches. Tell us about these trips.

- I'm going again the day after tomorrow, I'm quick, so I packed up and went. I'll tell you something interesting now: with these speeches, I not only try to help our soldiers switch the mood but first of all, I console myself. A very strange thing happens to me there: I become incredibly calm. I don't know why: Druzhkivka, Bakhmut, Avdiivka... I sleep well there. And humor is more acutely perceived there. And there is so much of it! It seems to me that our filmmakers need to travel and collect stories. Every fighter there has a ready-made script. No "Saving Private Ryan" can compare.

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- Do you remember your first performance? How did you feel?

- An internal deep exhale, incredible satisfaction from being in action. There were beautiful people in military uniforms and beautiful surroundings. I even decided to take a walk on the grass. But the guys grabbed my hand in time, "Mines are scattered all around".

We were in a brigade that held the northern direction of Kyiv and prevented the Russians from reaching Brovary. From there, Tetiana Chornovil destroyed her first Russian tank there. This is about women in war: it is not surprising that this shot was made by a woman. I believe that we have a matriarchy in our country, no matter what anyone says. A woman is smarter and more skillful than a man. Remember our sayings like "I'm not afraid of the devil or a woman until I get drunk". Unlike the Russians, we value our mother, wife, daughter, and sister: this is very important. A man goes to war and says, "Mother, don't scold me." I think it's great that we have a civilized culture.

- You said in an interview that you were not recruited to the territorial defense in February last year because of your vision problems.

- For the same reasons I did not end up at the front. When we received calls to the theater, we went with the guys to sign up. I was not accepted as my fundus was damaged, my astigmatism was worsening, and I had a high degree of myopia (minus 11). Nowadays, I am always thinking about where I can be useful. I know theaters where employees went straight to military psychiatry courses. It is necessary now because soldiers come back from the front who have burned out due to contusions and shock.

We all have to go to tactical medicine because we don't know what will happen tomorrow. Russians are also learning. I noticed a trend in our news: they say everything will be fine. I don't want to say that we are wearing rose-colored glasses. However, I believe that we need to face the truth more often: the enemy is insidious, evil and vile. And there are simply more of them than there are of us. The famous German politician of the nineteenth century, Bismarck, said: do not go to Russia, because, firstly, it is a long distance, secondly, there are great climatic differences, and thirdly, the people have low standards. They don't need that civilization. If they bring firewood to a mother for her murdered son, that's fine.

And these Russian opposition journalists, writers, singers... When I hear them, speak... I can't help but listen. And I think: if you are so smart, why did you let a KGB officer come to power? A sexist, a snitch. How did they allow this to happen after their parents rotted in the Gulag and on Kolyma because of people like him? As soon as Yanukovych came to power, the Maidan rose. In my opinion, Russians have always been very indecisive. Do you remember the band Nautilus Pompilius? Well, during perestroika, its leader was asked to change the lines in the song "Chained by One Chain". Now it sounds like this, 'Beyond the red sunrise is a pink sunset' but it should have read, 'Beyond the red sunrise is a brown sunset.' He predicted Russian fascism in his work. But he compromised his principles and changed the words. And this was at a time when it was possible to tell the truth. It was, let me remind you, the time of perestroika. There was at least some democracy.

- Do you think that there are no good Russians?

- That's not the point. Let's not say that good Russians are dead Russians. I know Russians who are fighting for Ukraine. One of them arrived back in 2019 and is still at the front. They are fighting for us, sitting in cold trenches. And let's not forget, as we have already discussed today, about the Ukrainians who were the first to find themselves abroad. And it will be very painful if all these Vynnyks, Potaps and Yams come home after the victory and Ukrainians run to their performances as if nothing had happened.

Although I must admit that the circumstances may be different. I have a friend who honestly said, 'I'm afraid, I'm scared'. He has four children, and now he drives cars for the military from abroad. Of those at the front, I know several who admit that there has been a perturbation. A person said, "I don't know what to do, I don't have the inner ache when you go on stage and get excited. After the front, something disappeared, I can't explain why. I think I'm going to quit my profession. And I don't know how to prevent this, what words to choose."

- The war cripples people a lot...

- I have a friend who is an actress and I consider her to be one of the best in Ukraine. She immediately joined the Armed Forces, and now she is in a military hospital. We know people whose faces and bodies were cut, and there are people whose brains could not cope with all this. We studied together with one of the best theater teachers, Mykola Rushkovskyi. She was told, "Svitlana, you will definitely be somewhere in Europe." She was not involved in direct clashes, as a woman, she was in the kitchen. But for some reason, people think that such people are more protected than soldiers. First of all, the work is hellish: you have to get up at five in the morning, peel a bunch of stuff, cook, and then wash. Secondly, the kitchen is also a strategic facility, and you get hit just like you get hit in the trenches.

- How do you feel about your colleagues from Russia who turned out to be spineless opportunists?

- I remember when they came, how they were treated here. Mashkov filmed with Balayan in Kyiv, along with Kostya Stepankov and Ada Rogovtseva. And Bezrukov was in Death Match, talking about the events during the war in Kyiv. However, he cries all the time for some reason. Is it conjunctivitis or something? (laughs) To make the viewer cry, you don't have to cry so much onscreen.

I'm not even talking about Khabensky. An actor I know was filming a movie with him and asked to be photographed together. He said, "Go ahead." And this was the time when they were still shooting with soapboxes. The actor took a photo, and when he was taking the pictures from the studio, he saw that his Russian colleague was hugging him and pointing a middle finger. At first, I didn't believe it, saying it couldn't be so, he was from St. Petersburg, a supposedly intelligent city. And then I saw the photo. They are so nasty.

I have friends who used to love movies with him and Bezrukov. I didn't understand it. This Brigade movie: what is it about? People who lived through the serious 90s understand that it is nonsense to romanticize bandits. They were thieves, rapists, murderers. Absolutely ugly people. Russians have now made a new series called Slovo Patsana. I remember these people, I encountered them personally. The fact is that I had my first eye surgery in Moscow. On my way home at the Kyiv railway station, they clung to me, scary people. But they were a little scared because my eye was very swollen after the operation, so they went away. Instead of thinking about autonomy and fighting for the separation of Tatarstan from Russia, all their courage and bravery formed into punching faces. They went to Moscow to beg for money at train stations. That's all they can do. Meanwhile, they have the entire periodic table in the ground, they can live in luxury, but they feed Moscow.

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- What do you think about our people who returned home from Russia, where they were building their creative careers, only when the invasion began?

- Sasha Polozhynskyi was once interviewed and asked how he felt about his colleagues who switched to Ukrainian and translated their songs amid the great war. He said that the main thing is that it comes from the heart. And I think to myself: how can people do it sincerely if their brains are trained to rhyme in Russian?

It's no secret that many of our pop singers have imitated Russian singers. The Russians - and this is also no secret - stole everything from abroad. It turns out that we were stealing stolen things... Instead of producing a good authentic product, like DakhaBrakha, our producers take something that sounds more pop because they need to make money at corporate events.

But we have had and still have great bands. For example, have you heard of the rock band Stoned Jesus? Their music is great. They were probably the first to show that a Ukrainian band could be in great demand in Europe. They were supposed to go abroad to perform, but they were not allowed to go. It's a shame.

- When you visit the guys at the front, what do they say? How long will the war last?

- There are a lot of stupid people in Russia. We hit those who took our pantry on the head, but we need to make sure that they don't take the rest of our rooms. And we know that the notional neighbor who "squeezed" part of our home has a whole family that is looking at our place. And there are also people in our families who say that things are not so clear-cut. I don't know how long the war will last physically, but it's clear that it will continue on another level.

It seems to me that this confrontation will last for a long time. The Russians continue to escalate the situation. They will make songs and movies. Someone told me that they have five or six films about Mariupol in production right now. And people will believe this propaganda. Even in the 70s, when Nazism was already defeated, a third of the German population believed that Hitler simply did not understand the situation, went a little overboard, but wanted the best for Germany. And we are talking about a nation that is smarter and more balanced than our eastern neighbor.

We are dealing with a very vile enemy who is putting pressure on Slavism and faith. And we have people who still run to the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate. We once had a conversation with the military at the front. One of them said, "We should also have a very strong propaganda department." They argued with him, "Well, we are not Russians." And he said, "As long as we play tolerance, they will come back through churches, movies, and pop."

Russians invest a lot of money in popularizing their language and culture. And some of our people still don't understand the relevance of the Ukrainian language. Let's say that that Russian-speaking teacher at a university in Kyiv, who was "drowning" for the Russian world, worked quietly. And the Lviv University protested against Farion, who merely said a careless phrase. Well, she said that, but I know that the guys from Azov, the Russian-speaking ones, did not react to her words. This is her front, her language. Instead of fighting among ourselves, we need to unite because we will do reconnaissance together. We will all be soldiers.

And we have to fight against something else: not to forgive traitors. I recently saw a commercial with Boyko, and oh my God, he's still around, talking about something. He has no conscience to say something. We need to throw off all the ballast, all these Povaliys and Loraks. These "rabbits" whose humor made our people dumb. Medvedchuk was walking around Kyiv quietly, having failed to defend the Ukrainian genius Stus. And when this so-called lawyer was interviewed, he assured us that he had done everything right. He said he did not like the poet's poems.

And now we are ready to forgive everything again: we live in a democratic society and there must be an opposition. But the opposition is something else. Any oppositionist in Poland is first and foremost a patriot of his country. We must not allow the Russians to come here as they are looking for loopholes to get back in. I will never forget how a priest from Russia came to one of the churches in Podil, "I need to stay at least through the winter. They asked, "Is everything so bad there? You say you're from Moscow region." And he said, "There is nothing to eat in winter. Men are at work and women drink. The children are starting to drink, and the old people are lying down because they can't drink anymore. No matter who brings an egg, there is nothing." I don't remember how this story ended, but the person briefly described the state of affairs that is observed not in some Nizhnevartovsk but near Moscow.

''Russians learn lessons too'': famous Ukrainian actor Mykhailo Kukuyuk on how long the war will last, fugitive artists and ''nasty'' Russian actors

- I would also like to ask you a little bit about you personally. Your parents are People's Artists Petro Kukuyuk and Antonina Palamarchuk. What do you remember from your childhood?

- When I went to bed with my brother, my parents would sometimes come to us and we would sing. We had our own lullaby that we sang. My mother sang Ukrainian folk songs very well. Our family was Ukrainian-speaking, although my father was from eastern Ukraine. My father and mother were representatives of the true Ukrainian intelligentsia. They taught me that if a person is a patriot, he or she will adhere to principles under any regime. My parents graduated from the studio at the Franko Theater in Kyiv but went to work in Zhytomyr at the local music and drama theater. They were generous people. First and foremost, they valued art, and success and fame were secondary.

- Your father was friends with Mykhailo Stelmakh, and you were named after him. What do you remember from that friendship?

- He gave me a book that he signed, "To my little Mykhailo from your grandfather Mykhailo". I remember my father saying, "Stelmakh is coming today." My mother would prepare diligently; Mykhailo was a gourmet, a person who valued traditions.

-In one of your interviews, you admitted that you like to play negative characters. Why?

- Because I see myself a little bit in the mirror (laughs). It is interesting to play negative characters: to observe them and to analyze their behavior. You have to try hard to be a positive character, and negative characters are the drivers of drama. The scoundrel always attracts more attention. This is usually the basis of the whole story.

Read an interview with TV presenter Oleksii Sukhanov: about "good Russians" and relatives he doesn't want to know.

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