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Art in the Time of War

Ukrainian sand animators and colleagues Olga Kryzhanovska and Svitlana Danylchenko left behind their homes, families, and work to escape the Russian invasion, both now hoping to reunite in Italy to continue performing their particular form of animated magic - the Ukrainian Golden Lion Sand Animation Theatre.

We are all aware of the terrible atrocities happening in the Ukraine, but it doesn’t really hit home for most people unless you have friends there.  Recently a sound engineer friend who is still in Kyiv introduced me, via the internet, to Olga Kryzhanovska and Svitlana Danylchenko. The two ladies are sand animators who have been working together for eight years. Sand animation is its own particular art form where the picture is formed in sand on top of a lightbox.

They both have a love of fairy tales and met while living in the same building. Svitlana came to work with sand via a career as an award-winning avant-garde fashion designer and when Olga saw and played with Svitlana’s sand table she was fascinated and wanted to learn how to create this animated magic. Thus, was born the Kyiv Theatre of Sand Animation Golden Lion. To honor their country, they have now become the Ukrainian Golden Lion Sand Animation Theater.

Initially, the pair started an art studio for children. They taught painting and invited guest writers, pantomimes, and other guest artists to demonstrate their craft to the young students. Eventually, they added small sand performances for the children and there was so much interest in their work that they began to perform in theatres.

All their programs are aimed at raising awareness of certain social problems in an accessible way while entertaining their audiences, introducing children to reading classical literature, listening to instrumental music, and learning history. Their programs have included such themes as the history of the Ukraine in fairy tales and legends, and classical music for children. They have penned a series of programs to raise awareness about ecology, as well as about writers and the lives of famous people.

Their performances became so popular that they moved to the seven hundred seat Great Hall in the beautiful Kyiv Cinema House. Olga and Svitlana have performed live on television and in a production studio, they recorded several Arabic fairy tales for the United Arab Emirates.

At first, they worked together at one sand table, but in 2019, they came up with the idea of working from two tables. This improved the dynamics and quality of scene transitions. Initially, the ladies recorded and voiced cartoons for their own pleasure at home in the kitchen. Eventually, they added Sergey Ulashev to their performances. He is also a popular actor in his own right, appearing in film and television. Currently, Sergey is in Kyiv where he is giving concerts for the military to help keep their spirits up.

Their scripts are written by the screenwriter and Ukrainian storyteller Sashka Lyrnik who is also still in Kyiv where he is a military volunteer. Their group of collaborators includes some of the most talented and well-known members of the Uranian performing community. They have also collaborated with the Svitlo Concert cultural organization to create several projects with live orchestral music.

In March of this year, Golden Lion Theatre planned the premiere of their new piece, Munchausen, based on the Baron Munchausen tales by Rudolf Erich Raspe. Tickets had already been sold and on February 23rd they were in rehearsal, laughing and making plans for opening night. Their whole journey was halted on February 24th when they were awakened by the sound of explosions.

Olga is now in Italy with her three children, while Svitlana is in Serbia with her youngest daughter and 84-year-old mother, trying to get to Italy to join her colleague. She told me that “I am going to Olga in Italy because we are like two hands of one person – we cannot imagine the possibility of being and creating alone.”

Olga and Svitlana want to begin giving live performances again as soon as possible. As Svitlana says, “How wonderful it is to feel like storytellers and make the world kinder. My dream is to bring goodness and love to the world through creativity because the language of art is universal and understandable to everyone”. You can see more examples of their beautiful performances on their website: and you can also find them on Instagram at:, or on Facebook:

I am hopeful that festival programmers and events organizers will invite the Ukrainian Golden Lion Sand Animation Theatre to perform live at their events and help these two talented ladies get back to creating beautiful art together.

About the war, I would like to let them speak in their own voices.

Olga wrote me:

“For the first hour, we did not believe that this was possible, but later it became clear that this was not a dream. I gathered the children; we got into the car and drove to a house near Kyiv. Svitlana was left to wait for her husband (to come home) from work. The country house . . . shook from explosives, we did not undress and did not sleep, because we went out on duty, in turn, to hear when to give the command to the children to wake up and run to the basement. It was very cold in the basement and we brought there the clothes that could keep us warm. During the day it was calm, but as the night approached, the explosions became stronger and more frequent, the whole sky shone with a glow and helicopters flew very low and there was a smell that I will remember for a lifetime – the smell of war - it exists.

The weather at that time was very cold, the sky was low and dark. It all reminded our whole family of the last episode of Harry Potter. Products gradually disappeared from the shelves, but they gave us bread, for which a huge queue lined up. The neighbor, who kept goats was very supportive; she shared milk with us. As adults, we tried to eat less so the children would not be hungry. Sometimes electricity and gas went out, and so we lived for two weeks. We began to get used to it, but people who had gasoline began to be evacuated from our village, they left on their own, but we did not have gasoline.

In the morning the last evacuation train left, we discussed that I should leave with the children and that my husband would stay with my mother, who refused to go. I stayed up all night and wondered if I was doing the right thing, but in the morning, I woke up my three children and said to take a few things and we left for nowhere. The path was long and difficult, we ended up in Italy, not far from my cousin. My whole world has turned upside down and I have to be strong and take care of my children. But I, like never before, with even greater zeal, now want to create and bring light and peace through art and talk about the horrors of war, because they should not be repeated!”

Svitlana wrote me:

“We did not believe that such a thing was possible in the civilized world. When we woke up from the explosions in the morning, I was very scared and panicked: what should I do? Where to run?... Two military planes roared over the roof of our house. It was so scary that my hands were shaking with my youngest daughter. We went to the underground parking lot, sat there until the evening, and then my eldest daughter took us to a dacha in the city where her fiancé’s family lives. At 4 or 5 AM we were awakened by a loud explosion and a bright light. A plane was downed not far from us… In the morning my husband came home from work and we went to the village of his mother, 200 km from Kyiv. We sat there for two weeks, listening to the terrible news on TV, in fear, in bewilderment: how is this possible??? Where is the world looking? Why such wild madness.

Then we left the Ukraine, my husband staying with his old, sick mother.

My mother (84 years old) was at the time 600 km away from us, alone. It was impossible to get there. A kind neighbor put her on the train and my eldest daughter met her and then they drove to us.

I have been thinking a lot lately… Where on our planet Earth is there a safe place to live?... And I understand that until people change inside, the world will remain as crazy and dangerous as it is now. Greed! Greed! Greed! Envy, lies, deceit, cynicism, hatred… Only God can free from this slavery... And salvation is only in him.”

These are only two of the countless, similar Ukrainian stories. Sadly, it is impossible for anyone to help all of the people in such desperate need. But, I hope that there is some way to help reunite Olga and Svitlana and I am very anxious to see their sand puppet theatre in person.