"Music and Dialogue: listening for a better understanding" was implemented by VladOpera e.V. and the Ukrainian-Belarusian initiative group, which resulted from the international opera project "Music Overcomes Walls" in 2017-2018, in partnership with Serhii Prokofiev Severodonetsk College of Culture and Art and Luhansk Regional Academic Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater. The initiators are committed to the idea of sustainable open dialogue through cultural and social projects.

Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region and the war in Donbass

Severodonetsk is a city in Eastern Ukraine and belongs to the Luhansk region. The city was designed and born in the 1930s: Intended to serve one of the biggest chemical factories in the Soviet Union it was — as markedly evident by its unusual architecture — a true "socialistic" project. Destroyed by German troops during World War II, the city was rebuilt and developed after 1945. As a consequence of the decline of the Soviet Union, the city and the region fell into a "slumber".

In 2014, the city was controlled by the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic" ("LNR") for three months, but in July 2014 Ukrainian authorities came back into power. In the months that followed, the city became a safe haven for thousands of refugees escaping from the war zone in the eastern part of the Luhansk region.

In September 2014, Severodonetsk became the official acting administrative center of the Luhansk region. Several organizations were moved from Luhansk that is still controlled by the self-proclaimed "LNR" to Severodonetsk, among them our project partner, the Luhansk Regional Academic Ukrainian Musical Drama Theatre.

The theater company and the orchestra faced enormous difficulties upon their arrival to Severodonetsk: the building that served as rehearsal facilities was in the emergency condition, there was no concert hall, there was a lack of living space, and most of the equipment had to be left behind in Luhansk. Under these conditions, the organizations had to start almost from "zero," and to spend enormous energy to even be able to resume their work and develop cultural life.

"Music and Dialogue" is the forth project realized by VladOpera e.V. in Severodonetsk. Each project involve different artists who found their home in the city and are active in cultural sphere.
Point of view
(Peter Schwarz, Head of Project, Chairman of VladOpera e.V.)

The changes in daily life were difficult for the local population. The locals have not only suffered from the war. Many people became victims of ideological confrontation between the ideas of "independent united country" and "Russian world". Hosting thousands of refugees in a small city was also very hard.

The local population's reaction to the war was very divergent. As for our partners, one part of artists, musicians and administrative employees escaped to Russia. A second part stayed in Luhansk, supporting the new power — or just trying to come to some arrangement to be able to stay home. A third part fled to those parts of the country controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.

Thus, today many structures are doubled: there is, for example, one theater in Severodonetsk and the second one in the city of Luhansk; the same for the philharmonics. Artists that have been working together for many years find themselves in completely "opposite" worlds.

This mental gap can be seen in many fields, even within families and among close friends: some people define themselves as being part of the "Russian world", others feel clearly "Ukrainian," and many people just want the war to end and don't take a position on either side.

Above the tragedy of a still-ongoing war, and besides all practical or political questions, the main challenge in the region is: How can a common perspective for a peaceful co-existence in the region be found? How can all the hatred on all sides, grown as a consequence of this war, be overcome? How can people build mental bridges after such suffering? How to filter through all the propaganda from both West and East and try to find a common language? When the war ends, it will be very difficult to overcome mental barriers between people. It seems that it will take a lot of time to re-build any kind of confidence.