Voices from Russia

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Puppet Theatre During the Blockade of Leningrad


An exhibition of dolls from the war years opened in St Petersburg, on the 65th anniversary of the lifting of the blockade of Leningrad. These are not children’s toys, but, they are dolls from the Museum of the Demeny Puppet Theatre. During World War II, these marionettes appeared on the stage in the blockaded city and were also taken to give performances at the most-forward positions of the front line.

Bear Cub, Matryoshka, Pupsy, the Smiling Tiger and the King of the Rats were the heroes of the play Kukolny Gorod (Puppet City), based on a fairy-tale by Yevgeni Shvarts. It was extremely popular amongst the kids of Leningrad before the war. Who would have thought that during the blockade of the city, this children’s play would be so necessary and important for the soldiers going to protect the city and for the remaining adults who were not evacuated? The plot of the play, where the Puppet City was attacked by the rats, took on a different meaning. Moreover, there was a line immediately under the title “Puppet City”, “The War of the Rats and the Toys”.

Faina Kostina, one of the puppeteers at the Demeny Theatre, said, “The plot of the play is very insightful. The central characters were toys, which fled into the forest, running away from naughty children, who built a puppet city. At first, everything was good, but, the Piggy Bank was a traitor, and a war of between the rats and toys began. To everyone’s surprise, the play proved to be a patriotic favourite. Both children and adults came and watched it with pleasure. Everyone laughed and rejoiced, and believed that the war would, one day, come to an end, and that good would conquer evil”.

Ms Kostina went on to say, “People came to the theatre and it seemed like the old pre-war days had returned, where there were no bombs, no explosions, or no deaths. Indeed, in the world of the theatre, nothing had changed. The hall, chairs, stage, and, above all, the atmosphere were unchanged, which made it possible for a time to forget the misfortunes of the present, so, people came. The only thing that changed was the times of the performances. There were no shows in the morning or in the evening. The only show of the day was at 13.00, when the punctual Germans stopped bombing and arranged a lunch break”.

By January 1942, only 10 people were left in the theatre troupe. Some went to the front; some were killed by the bombing. When the actors were evacuated, they thought on how to preserve their unique props and puppets. Ms Kostina said, “Even in the darkest days of the blockade, we preserved our marionettes. Despite the terrible cold, not one doll was burnt in the stove for heat, even though they were all made of wood. Yes, we burnt scenery, and we burnt anything that we could get our hands on, anything but our precious dolls. When our actors were evacuated, you could take only 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds) as baggage, and everyone who left took their dolls with them”.

At the same time, in 1942, the poet Samuil Marshak wrote the satirical pamphlet Yuny Frits (Young Fritz) for the theatre troupe. Very quickly, the theatre created a new puppet show based on the pamphlet and the show travelled to the front to play for the soldiers of the army in the field. More than 600 performances of this play were given for the troops. Ms Kostina remembered, “It was a very funny story. Amongst the characters, in addition to Hitler, were Göring, Göbbels, and the parents of Young Fritz. Papa, Mama, and even Grandma, in the play, sent Fritz to conquer Russia. Eyewitnesses say that the forest shook with laughter. The marionettes used in this performance were preserved. Their heads, arms, and legs are like they were just cut from the tree, and they still all work properly. For example, the puppet of Hitler, when he is angered, his eyes pop out of their sockets. It was all very funny”.

None of the artists of the theatre who went to the front, returned from the war, many more were killed during the siege, but, the dolls, witnesses to those terrible days, were saved and returned again to their native city. The marionette theatre on the Nevsky was revived. Today, it presents other plays, and the grandchildren of the children of the siege of Leningrad come and wonder. However, the dolls that once helped the city to survive are now in display cases. Here are the same old friends, the Smiling Tiger, the Monkey, Pupsy and Hitler with his popping eyes.

22 January 2009

Svetlana Andreyeva

Voice of Russia World Service



Vladimir Vysotsky: His Verses and Songs were the Ultimate Reflection of the Pain, Grief, and Happiness of the Russian Soul

A Tribute to a Poet (Eduard Gindin, 1980s)

Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-80), was a famous Russian singer-songwriter and actor of the Soviet period. May God grant his troubled soul rest. Vechnaya Pamyat, Vladimir.

Every year, on 25 January, millions of people in and outside Russia mark the birthday of the legendary singer-songwriter and actor Vladimir Vysotsky with a mixture of grief and gratitude. He died in July 1980… He was only 42… Today, he would have been 71, but, his fame has not dimmed, people still love his songs. They translate and sing them in different languages, for there are no more Communist Party cultural apparatchiki who forbid their dissemination. Now, nothing stops people from listening to his songs and finding in them the answers to the most pressing problems of contemporary life.

Vysotsky was a phenomenon that had resonance throughout the entire world. A prominent Russian actor, lyricist, and folksinger whose social and political satire spoke of the ironies and hardships of a strictly-regulated Soviet society… While risking official displeasure, Vysotsky became an immensely popular figure, revered by the Russian people even after his death. A high-strung figure, quick to respond to life’s joys and hardships, he slowly killed himself with booze and drugs. His son, Nikita, said, “Many people see my father as the ultimate reflection of the Russian soul. Therefore, to this day, his glory lives far beyond the borders of Russia. Father’s birthday is celebrated in Moscow, elsewhere in Russia, and everywhere in the world you hear the Russian language”.

Vladimir Vysotsky’s widow, the famous French actress Marina Vlady will soon be in Moscow to present a new play of her own making based on the book she wrote, entitled Vladimir or the Aborted Flight. “These are excerpts from Volodya’s songs and poems that I sing and recite in Russian and French. These are my stories about our life together, about the love we shared…” This is probably more than just a woman’s tribute to her husband’s memory; it is a tribute by a great actress to the great actor Vysotsky certainly was. The “best Hamlet” to grace the stage of Moscow’s famous Taganka Theatre, Vladimir Vysotsky played the part of the tormented Danish prince an amazing 317 times! Or, maybe, he was playing himself? Who will answer that question…?

24 January 2009

Voice of Russia World Service


Archpastoral Council Convenes in Moscow, Names Three Candidates to its Shortlist for Patriarch


Extraordinary Session of the MP Archpastoral Council on Sunday 25 January 2009 at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow

On Sunday, The Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias started the process of electing a new leader following the death of Patriarch Aleksei II last year. Patriarch Aleksei Rediger, who led the revival of Orthodoxy in the country after the demise of communism, died of heart failure at the age of 79 on 5 December 2008. Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad was chosen by the MP Holy Synod as the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, in effect, the interim patriarch. The hierarchs of the MP are meeting at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow on 25-26 January to draw up a shortlist of three candidates. A full Local Church Council, including lay people, will gather on 27-28 January to elect one of the three candidates as Patriarch Aleksei’s successor.

mp-archpastoral-council-in-moscow-2On Thursday, the polling organisation VTsIOM said that Russians identified Metropolitan Kirill, the interim leader of the MP, as the most likely candidate to become the next patriarch. According to the VTsIOM survey, 28 percent of Russians expect Kirill, aged 62, to be chosen as the new patriarch. However, 71 percent of those surveyed failed to answer the question, including 69 percent of the respondents who could not name any member of the MP hierarchy. Half the respondents said they would like the next patriarch to be a spiritual leader and a mentor to the Russian nation. The opinion was most often voiced by elderly respondents (52 percent) and Orthodox believers (57 percent). Another 8 percent of those surveyed viewed the patriarch as a prominent statesman and a member of the highest leadership of Russia. The pollster said 14 percent of the respondents favour an intelligent and educated patriarch, and another 12 percent said they would like the candidate to be compassionate and sympathetic. The VTsIOM conducted the poll on 10-11 January amongst 1,600 people in 140 towns across 42 Russian regions.


After convening on Sunday, the MP Archpastoral Council announced a shortlist of three candidates to elect a new leader to take the place of the late Patriarch Aleksei. The shortlist includes Metropolitans Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (the head of the MP DECR and Patriarchal Locum Tenens), Kliment Kapalin of Kaluga and Borovsk (the MP Chancellor), and Philaret Vakhromeyev of Minsk and Slutsk and all Byelorussia (the First Hierarch of the Byelorussian Autonomous Orthodox Church (MP)).

The hierarchy of the MP drew up this shortlist at the extraordinary session of the Archpastoral Council held at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. The vote for the candidates was conducted by a secret ballot of the 198 bishops (out of 202 in the MP) present at the meeting. Kirill received 97 votes, Kliment 32, and Philaret 16. This represented 145 (71.78 percent) of the hierarchs present at the Archpastoral Council.

mp-archpastoral-council-in-moscow-3Fourth place was taken by Metropolitan Yuvenaly Poyarkov of Krutitsa and Kolomna, who garnered 14 votes. The remaining votes were scattered amongst some other figures in the hierarchy. Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev and all the Ukraine gained 10 votes, Metropolitan Onufry Berezovsky of Chernovitsy and Bukovina received 10 votes, Metropolitan Sergei Fomin of Voronezh and Borisogleb gained 7 votes, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kishinev and all Moldova got 4, and Metropolitan Agafangel Savvin of Odessa and Izmail won 3. Metropolitan German Timofeyev of Volgograd and Kamyshensk, Metropolitan Platon of the Argentine and South America, Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral of New York and Eastern America (the First hierarch of the ROCOR), Metropolitan Vladimir Ikim of Tashkent and Central Asia, Bishop Pitirim Volochkov of Syktyvkar and Vorkutinsk each received one vote. One ballot was determined to be invalid, but, there were no spoilt ballots detected.

After the report of Metropolitan Isidor of Krasnodar and the Kuban, the head of the Accounts Commission, Metropolitan Kirill, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, officially announced the shortlist of three candidates and declared the session of the Archpastoral Council closed. The Local Council of the MP, which shall include delegates from the clergy, monastics, and laity, shall have the right to name additional candidates to stand for election as Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias.





Editor’s Note:

This is only the first step in the process. Do note well that Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan was seated right next to Kirill. The next step is the vote at the Local Council, no doubt with additional candidates proposed from the floor, and the last step is the certification of the election by the MP Holy Synod. It is still wide-open and anyone who hazards a guess at this point is a 24-carat sold-gold fool. Remember, the Holy Spirit has yet to speak…


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