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"The war revealed a lot of things". Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

Lesia Samaieva

Ukrainian actress Lesia Samaieva has worked extensively in film and theater. The most famous of them are all parts of Crazy Wedding, Hell's Banner, or Cossack Christmas, Khaytarma, Blood Sisters, One Million Dollar Village, and Yurchyshyns.

In an interview with OBOZ.UA, the actress admitted why she now recalls working with some Russian artists with disgust. She also told what helped her not to go crazy during the most difficult months after the Russian invasion.

– What was a terrible day for you on February 24, 2022?

– We live outside the city and woke up to explosions. The day before, everyone was discussing that "they wouldn't dare" and "it can't be possible." And then you realize with horror that it happened. My husband and I (actor Andriy Saminin – Ed.) started calling my mother and daughter in Kyiv to take me to their place. At the time, we thought it was better. Besides, they both live on high floors. And it seemed to us that it would be less dangerous here on the ground. There is also a movie theater in the basement, a place where we could hide during rocket attacks.

The most important impression I have from the first days is despair and complete disorganization. You have absolutely no idea what to do. That's why seeing each other, being close to each other, communicating, consulting – it helped a lot not to go crazy.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– The Russians didn't reach Belogorodka, where you live, by a kilometer. Your colleague and neighbor, the actor Kostiantyn Kostyshyn, who is now in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told us about this in an interview.

– They were unable to capture our area, of course, primarily because of the resistance of our heroic defenders. But there was something else, and it is a very mystical story. In Kruhlyk, as well as on the outskirts of Bilohorodka, there are defensive systems known as the Snake Vales. They are about a thousand years old, built during the reign of Princes Volodymyr and Yaroslav. It was these ramparts from our ancestors that prevented the movement of the invaders' equipment, can you imagine?

But when the Russians were already very close, our sky turned simply red. The explosions did not stop for a minute. I think now: how could we not be afraid then? We had only one wish: just to survive. When we learned about Bucha, we sent our daughter to the west of Ukraine and decided not to go anywhere. However, relatives, friends, and acquaintances were constantly calling us, scaring us with stories that our place would be besieged. At some point, we packed our things and went to our relatives in Khmelnytskyi. When we returned three weeks later, I was kissing the ground in my yard. It seemed like you were going to the same Ukraine, but it's not easy to overcome the feeling that you are a refugee, expelled from your home.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– After the invasion, the theaters closed for a while, and the film process stopped. How did you live when you had no work?

– I would even say that we didn't. In one minute, we were practically beggars. Before the war, I was approved for four projects, and then suddenly everything was canceled. At first, we saved some savings, and then we lived on credit, taking money in advance from bank cards. The most interesting thing is that when we received requests for help, I opened the card, saw the negative balance, but still transferred the money, thinking: it will work out somehow. And I often remembered how wonderful our life was. And then – without work, without anything. It's scary – despair and complete pennilessness.

– How long did it take you to get back on the set?

– Thanks to Yuriy Horbunov, the filming of the next season of Crazy Neighbors began. This work brought some income. Meanwhile, the actors Nastya Tsymbalaru and Hryhoriy Baklanov created the Act Lots actors' association, which began to actively volunteer. "We sold our stuff from some movies at auctions. We held master classes for donations and charity screenings of our films. We also auctioned off breakfasts with the actors of Crazy Wedding and To Catch a Kaidash. Psychologically, this supported us a lot, and gave us the feeling that we were in business.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

Later on, you started a charity tour with the play Bad Roads by Tamara Trunova – Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, and Germany. It turns out that my first appearance on stage after the war started was abroad. When I arrived there and saw the calm, measured, happy life of Europeans, I did not feel any envy. On the contrary, I took these trips with great gratitude, because I got an unexpected opportunity to calm down psychologically. I remember a moment before my first trip: it was time to pack my suitcase, and I realized that I couldn't, my psyche was so shaken. And when we got on the train and I saw all my friends, I caught myself thinking: my God, it seems like there is no war, no horror!

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– You mentioned Yuriy Horbunov. Tell us, how did you feel about the scandal he got into with the TV series "SMT Ingulets"?

– I think it's terrible when people can attack someone so fiercely. And how many of Yura's colleagues supported this without understanding it. For some reason, no one even called directly and asked: is this really true? The scenario about Povorozniuk? Without checking the facts, without understanding, people rushed to destroy their own. I don't want to talk about the financial part of this scandal, I just want to mention that when everyone around was chirping in Moscow, Yura was one of the few public people who spoke Ukrainian all the time and made it popular.

They say that any news lives for three days and is forgotten. But the hate that was poured on Horbunov went on and on. Every day I thought: when will it end? No, they didn't stop blowing it up! I felt nothing but horror and shame at the time. And also insecurity. When you put yourself in the place of a person who is in this position, you realize what a horror it is: yesterday you were adored, and today you are being stoned to death.

After that, something similar happened with the movie Yurik. We once met a famous actress from this project. And she asked me: "Lesia, how are you doing? My direct mail is flooded with messages that 'the blood of children is on your hands'. Well, tell me, is there any critical thinking in the minds of the people who write this to the actress? And why not the Russians who started this war? At such moments I get very scared. People don't think that during these toxic attacks, anger is being sown around us, which then has to go somewhere. It doesn't happen that we throw it out and it dissolves like a cloud. This anger is bound to come out somewhere later – in some unexpected conflict that seems to arise out of nowhere.

– At one time, like many other Ukrainian actors, you had to act in films with Russians in them. How do you remember it? Is it true that you were sitting on chairs waiting for your scenes, while they were resting in luxurious dressing rooms?

– Unfortunately, this happened. We were huddled somewhere, all in one room, and their conditions were completely different. However, this is not even what outrages me. Somewhere recently I read a statement (I don't remember who the author is now) that said that not only are they trying to take away our present life, they are trying to destroy our future. And I would add: and to take away the past. I will never be able to share a memory of a particular job because I am disgusted when I remember that Russians worked alongside me. When I hear this language, I see the faces that are now shouting on TV that "Ukrainians are Nazis"... I am uncomfortable watching even the Soviet films I grew up with, because I see propaganda all around me. Everything related to Russian culture and language is unacceptable nowadays. It is rightly said that any Russian democrat ends where the Ukrainian issue begins. They may hate Putin and be against the war, but a Ukrainian should be a "little brother." They are infected with the bacillus of imperialism, and this is incurable.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

For example, the actor Anton Batyrev, who was actually made a star by Ukraine. In Moscow, no one knew about him, but they began to recognize him thanks to his Bayrak paintings. Basically, he played all his roles here. And now this young man is just covered with tattoos with portraits of Gagarin and a "worker and a collective farm girl." What does he know about this? But mentally, like all Russians, he lives in the past. You know what they say: Ukrainians are the energy of life, while Russians live with the energy of death. This is their mentality, and we will never understand each other. Because we are about life, about making everything flourish, develop, and create.

And they say: well, just think of that "great" Russian literature. There, nothing is ever considered from the point of view of solar energy, life, and joy. Everything is described from the point of view of withering and endless reflection on the topic of withering. The energy of death, the energy of decay. It is normal to go away and die somewhere. To get drunk so much that you don't realize what you're doing, to fall somewhere, to break your head, to get into some stupid fight. It's a completely different mentality, you know?

And I believe that we have been diluting it very much over the years. I noticed the following feature: the Russian actors who came here were completely different than when they later filmed in Moscow. They were more well-mannered. By chance, I came across some of their Moscow roles on YouTube – a cult of alcoholism and always swearing. They rushed here with joy: they would always be paid money and made stars. Why not? But inside, I think they despised all of us because they had to adapt to an environment that was alien to them. The war opened up a lot of things. When you watch historical programs, you start analyzing: they have always been like this, and that's why they are so eager to destroy us.

– How do you feel about your people being betrayed? I'm referring to the filmmaker Oksana Bayrak, who did not condemn the war against Ukraine. Moreover, she went to Russia and is now making films for propaganda TV channels there.

– Well, this is pure betrayal, and there is nothing worse than that. If a stranger betrays you, it doesn't hurt as much because they have a different mentality and upbringing. But when your own people turn out to be rotten, it is very difficult to accept.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– Let's talk about the good stuff. In the movies, you have a great duet with Nazar Zadniprovskyi. When we interviewed Vitalina Bibliv, who also plays with Nazar, we asked her if she was jealous of you. She replied: "Why should I be jealous? I was the first one he had."

– Nazar and I have actually known each other since we were students, we studied at parallel courses – I'm going to upset Vitalina here (laughs). Nazar is a really great partner – he knows a lot of things, has an incredible memory, and is very well-read. He is responsible and loving to his family. But at the same time, he is a bit of a joker – in a good way. You know, there are such kids in every class in childhood? He always makes me laugh on the playground – the life of the party.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– The first part of Crazy Wedding, where you play one of the main roles, featured Oleh Vynnyk, who was super popular at the time. Were you not surprised when he quietly left Ukraine at the beginning of the invasion and disappeared from the public space?

– I didn't keep in touch with him on the set. He arrived, filmed, left, and that was it. Besides, I must admit that I never belonged to his pack of wolves and treated his work a little ironically. At the same time, I in no way want to offend everyone who loves him – this is my subjective opinion. As for his silence, I don't understand it at all. I could have left too, I have a child for whom I am worried. But in such terrible times, we need to be together. And I won't leave my husband either – it's like a betrayal for me.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– Tell us about your husband, Andriy Saminin, for those readers who may not know that he not only acts in film and theater but is also the official voice of several Hollywood actors in Ukraine.

– He used to be one of the top five best dubbing actors. Then, when there was a lot of filming, he stepped away from voice acting a bit. Now he is back again. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Antonio Banderas, and George Clooney speak in his voice in our cinemas. Andriy is a great voice actor because he listens very carefully to the actor and tries to reproduce the voice features that are specific to him.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– Tell me, how many times have you seen the sensational production of The Witch of Konotop, in which your husband plays, at the Franko Theater, because many people have never seen it?

– My Andriy, when he hears the phrase "invitation to The Witch of Konotop," he starts to stutter. But I love my husband and, protecting his nervous system, I tell my friends: we need to wait a little bit, the hype will subside and you will all see it. The first time I saw The Witch of Konotop was at a preview of the play, which is usually held before the premiere. Colleagues and relatives of the actors can come there. And then I attended the premiere itself.

– What is the secret of this play's enormous popularity?

– I think it's cool because it's multifaceted. On the one hand, it is very simple (but not primitive) in the sense that it tells a clear and understandable story. This is complemented by a piercing musical accompaniment, excellent acting, brilliant scenography with many interesting finds, and incredible directorial work. There is a mysticism in the production, which is very organic for Ukrainians. This play is suitable for everyone: children and the most sophisticated art lovers.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– What would you recommend to watch in your Theater on the left bank of the Dnipro?

– "37 Postcards" is a must. It's my last premiere, by the way. "All the Best Things is a one-woman show by Olesya Zhurakivska. "Bad Roads is a play that won the Shevchenko Prize. There is also a very funny premiere of Something is wrong with this play. In general, to be honest, all our performances are good. As I'm talking, I feel like I'm going to start listing the entire repertoire. By the way, recently one of our actresses shared that a relative came to see 37 Postcards, who had previously claimed that he did not understand or feel the theater, and had never been to one. And after the performance, he said: "I don't know what you're doing, but I laughed and cried like a child." That's why I love theater.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

– Do you have dreams in your life in such a difficult time?

– You have to have dreams: at any age and time. But it is important not just to dream, but to bring your dream closer. For example, I really wanted to live on the land, even though I was born and raised in Kyiv. I dreamed of a piece of land until I shivered. I remember sharing this with a colleague, and he said: "You should not just want it, but visualize it. Imagine yourself walking on that plot, doing something in the garden." I started practicing this, and six months later, Andriusha and I bought our own piece of land.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

Another interesting thing is that when you dream about something very much, you subconsciously "attract" the information you need. You start asking questions to someone somewhere, raising topics of concern in conversations. And you don't even notice how you are doing a great job of achieving your dream. For example, I once shared with Kostia Kostyshyn, whom we talked about at the beginning of the interview, that I wanted to buy land. It turned out that he had the same dream. He said: "There is something on offer in Vasylkiv." We went and looked at it. It was a miracle we didn't get caught up in a scam. Later it turned out that there was a double sale. What did you think? Time passes, and Kostya confesses to my Andriy that he will take the land. "I know that Lesia really wanted it too, you'll see," he adds. And thanks to Kostia, we bought the land. And we became neighbors.

''The war revealed a lot of things''. Lesia Samaieva on living on credit, her disgust with some Russian colleagues, and her cherished dream that came true

My Andriy likes to recall a story that happened when we were in China with our movie How Steel Was Tempered. They gave us a poster with a very calligraphic character. The master of this work told us that the character should be written without taking your hand off the paper, in fact, in one movement. It seems that there are gaps between some elements, but this is not the case – just a line so thin that it seems to be invisible. Our lives are like that. You dream, invest, write – and it doesn't manifest. But in reality, the "hieroglyph" is being written. And then the moment will come when you see a bold black line - the result of what you invested.

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