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Opinion/the Netherlands

"Light will win." Alexei Gorbunov on filming under bombing in Ukraine, working in France and performances in the Netherlands


Alexey Gorbunov is a famous film and theatre actor, the People's Artist of Ukraine. He has starred in famous films such as Land of the Deaf, The Stilyagi, The Inhabited Island, Twenteen, The State Counsellor and many others. At the end of 2014 he refused to take part in Russian projects.

- Now, in these months, you are living and working in Ukraine. How does it go with the war?

- I am in Europe from time to time, there are scheduled performances. I go to Kiev, I was there a fortnight ago. We were shooting a movie for a month, under fire.

Rockets fly - we shoot. We almost got used to it, every man on the set is working clearly, consciously. There is bombing in the background and we are shooting a film.

- Are your guys, your group, with you?

- The guys are in Kiev. When I was in Kyiv, we played two concerts. Work continues, life goes on. Whilst there are fewer shootings and concerts now, we still work all the same.

- You curtailed your projects in Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Are you in contact with any of your Russian colleagues?

-I am in contact with those who remained on the side of the world, who support Ukraine and the people. I will not name names. Do you know how people get offended?  Artists are like children: 'what you said about him and didn't say about me'. I am in contact with those whom I have to communicate with, that's what I will say.

- Are there people who surprised you, who you didn't expect support from or who disappointed you?

- Ask any person - there are a lot of disappointments. But there are still people who were...

Those who were close to me have become even closer. There are fewer of them, but they became my brothers and sisters. And those who turned out to be strangers - what can I say about them?

Alexei Gorbunov in Nikita Mikhalkov's "Twelve"

- You once said that war had changed creative formats. You have, for example, become an active user of TikTok.

- Yes, and I encourage everyone to watch TikTok. My channel with my comrade Seryoga - Sledopyty (Pathfinders) - is two years old. We shoot small clips of 30-40 seconds each episode. We have already made almost 500 episodes of Pathfinders.

My youngest daughter said to me "Daddy, do TikTok!" - and here we are with 160,000 subscribers. I love this format.

- What's your most memorable moment since February 24th? Maybe a song, someone's performance, some inspiring event?

- The hardest part is the stress. The first week of the war - it just hit us all. Emotionally it helped that a lot of young musicians started to sing in Ukrainian: rap and other modern styles. New names, new generation. They sang so well about it all, it helped a lot.

For the first week, even two weeks, these young bands were the only ones to save me. Not stars like Elsa's Ocean, no, totally new, teenagers. There's Burla, Nero I think his name is, Artem Pivovarov, I'm afraid of saying something wrong...

I was astonished that they write and post about the bad things atraigan away. And this rapper's rhythm, lyrics in Ukrainian - it was something new, very strong.

There's new Ukrainian music, it's just fire! A lot of talented young girls and boys.

- What do you think about collective responsibility and guilt? Are all Russians responsible?

- I don't understand collective responsibility. You can't lump everyone together. I performed in Arnhem, there were people from Russia in the audience... Lena was sitting there, a Muscovite, watching, crying, singing along with us. Is she collectively responsible? How can you answer?

I do not know, it is a strange question. Let journalists and politicians answer.

Who started the war is the one who is to blame, you know? But people - I don't know.

"Red Orchestra", 2004

- We are read by many Ukrainians who were forced to flee to Europe. Could you say some words of support to them?

- Of course. I had a lot of concerts, all April and May we were collecting money for Ukraine. There were 25 concerts, one after the other, for two months. And there were a lot of people from Ukraine when it first started.

People came,. I heard so many stories, this is Mariupol, this is Kharkov, this is Mykolaiv, this is Krivoy Rog, this is Odessa, Kiev... I lived so many stories together with them.

And the children. It struck me that there are a lot of children, and children have different eyes. Here I am playing in the square or in the hall - there are a lot of children, I can see them, in the front rows. It's, you know, impossible to express. Because those eyes, the way they look...

I want to say something warm to people. I'm in this situation myself, like all my people, all my country. And you know, all that comes to mind is: "try to win the victory”.

As pity-filled as it may sound, I am an adult, I am 61 years old - I am proud that I have a Ukrainian passport, that I was born in Ukraine. And now, despite all this grief and horror, I am once again convinced that we have the best people in the world. Especially our women, to whom all this has fallen.

Mothers, grandmothers - I am talking about all women now - you are the best and you deserved your happiness after these horrors.

"The Wild Field", 2018

- Tell us about filming in France, what kind of project is it? Will you be filming more in Europe?

- I have offers, I already have five films in France. The best known are The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) season 4-5 and Möbius. There's Kompromat, also in France, which I have a small part in and which premiered in September.

Maybe something in Holland or Belgium. That's the thing about cinema: I depend on the producer and the director. If they call me, I'll do it. But I don't know the language, which is terrible. The French say to me, "How come you can't even learn English?" I only know the most important French words: "Cherchez la femme, bon appétit".

Now there are talks with the Poles, maybe in March-February we'll start shooting.

I am glad the French know me, the Italians know me, the Germans know me, the Americans know me. Jean Claude Van Damme recently invited me to Hollywood. I've got a video of him, I'll put it online soon. I shot with Van Damme a year ago in Kyiv in the movie "The Last Mercenary" on Netflix. It was made by Frenchmen, and it's a very cool action film, I recommend you to watch it.

- Of course, we're waiting for more performances in Europe, can we hope for that? You met Jelena Bukharina yesterday, do you already have an offer from Riga?

- What I really want is to go to Riga. I would like to bring "Shkatulka" ("The Jewel-box") to Riga and I would like to hold a creative evening with my musicians in Kyiv. Some may go, some may not.

I hope we will all come to Riga with the "The Black Jewel-box" performance. We played it very soulfully in Arnhem, it was really good.

And that's me in a "circumcised state" - that's what I call myself when I'm alone on stage with a guitar. But can you imagine when we put the lights on, when the set elements, when all the musicians play together - it's a totally different atmosphere.

Alexei Gorbunov in "The Black Jewel-box", 2018

- The performance in Arnhem was very... soulful. Thank you.

- It's a radio play, an actor-microphone. I did that in Kiev and in Odessa by myself and it's still a performance, even if it's by a single actor.

There's also Vysotsky, I have a separate program, romances. All the women ask me - "Give me romances!", and I'm only too glad to do it myself.

In times of hardship I want to sing about love. To give people a little bit of that warmth found in the old songs, in the old movies.

We were reminiscing yesterday about old actors who could speak with their hearts, with their souls and who could act. It was honest, talented, without politics and without pompousness. This is what we must return to now when all people are tired of living in constant stress.

It doesn't matter, whether you’re in Ukraine, in Europe, even if you live somewhere peaceful, in America, everyone needs this warmth, this conversation in the kitchen. That's why we also do flats.

The flats were born in Kyiv during the covid, when all the concerts were canceled. Me and the guys sat in the kitchen, rehearsing. We started streaming it on Facebook and saw our audience grow.

We started playing flats and realized that people needed it - a simple guitar, a table and lyrics. I have been singing Ukrainian folk songs for about 20-25 years, even back to Vysotsky and Tsoi, but today it is perceived by people in a completely different way. And people want to sing it.

- At our last meeting, remember, the first concert in Arnhem? The whole audience sang Alla Borisovna and...

- That's what people want. Simple honest real words, about love and children. What's "The Box" about? About love and children, about women, about hope, waiting for a miracle. And the belief that light will triumph all the same.

Now people want to see the light, but the darkness - it will remain in the darkness.

Interview by: Olesya Nyzhnyk

Cover photo: