Bringing healing in Ukraine through theater and the arts

By Ashani Ratnayake | November 17, 2022 | Europe & Eurasia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Youth Empowerment

While the war rages on, brave young activists from Theatre of Contemporary Dialogue continue their work in Ukraine, using the arts to help children and young people channel their feelings and find healing.

The power of theater and the arts is not to be underestimated; theater can prompt critical conversation in polarized settings, break through isolation to build connections, and bring joy and hope in times of darkness.

GFC partner Theatre of Contemporary Dialogue (TCD) was founded on this very premise – embracing the power of theater. In 2015, in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and subsequent armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, a group of young people came together to help those affected using theater and the arts. They developed modern plays aimed at creating awareness and changing attitudes by discussing topics ranging from integrating displaced people into society to reducing prejudice.

A group of young people on stage for a theatrical performance.

A play performed by members of TCD. © TCD

Their work has evolved over the past seven years, and it has become even more meaningful following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. TCD, a youth-led organization and a Spark Fund partner, is now placing more emphasis on children and young people affected by the war, using the arts to help them find ways to cope with trauma.

The organization offers a safe space where children can learn and play. TCD recognizes the importance of giving children the opportunity to speak freely and share how they feel, which is not always possible at home, as parents too are on edge. The stark reality of the war is not forgotten, and TCD ensures there are bomb shelters nearby in case of an attack. Youth members of TCD have also created a series of audio and video lessons for kids between the ages of 4 and 15 and they are developing lessons on mind-body techniques that can help children stay calm in stressful situations.

“We recently published a series of fairy tales in audio form that children could listen to from the shelters or even their apartment hallways,” said Anastasiia Kelym, Communications and Partnership Specialist at TCD. “These will help calm the children when they’re anxious and scared.”

A small group of children playing with some musical instruments.

Children playing in a safe space facilitated by TCD. © TCD

This youth-driven organization recently opened a school in Poltava, a city in central Ukraine, where young people can pursue studies in art, theater, journalism, media, and music. Members of the organization brave the attacks on Ukraine to conduct classes for children and youth in person; some members have even traveled back from neighboring countries where they’ve sought refuge. They also frequently use online platforms to reach those in remote locations.

TCD continues to harness theater to help people deal with their trauma and address social injustices. The organization welcomes anyone to join its plays; the only entry criterion is to be willing to share one’s story to help others. “Our playwright (a psychologist) repeatedly emphasizes how these stories help build connections by reminding people that they are not alone. We all have similar stories, especially now,” said Oleksandra Volakova, Coordinator and Method-trainer at TCD.

After each play, a discussion is held with the audience about the issues depicted, how each situation can be better managed, and what solutions can be put forth.

“Everyone loves art. We want to show everyone how art can be used as a tool to make changes in society,” said Oleksandra.

Despite the frightening situation in Ukraine, youth members of TCD are still developing documentaries that entail traveling between cities to collect footage and stories. Many of them have encountered dangerous situations, such as traveling in utter darkness on isolated roads with the imminent threat of missiles, but they keep coming back to Poltava with a sense of purpose, determined to make a difference.

“Sometimes we have to do our planning from inside bomb shelters, but the end result is so rewarding – we see children who came in scared, closed, and even a little aggressive become vibrant, open up, and smile again,” said Oleksandra.

TCD will continue working in Ukraine to address social issues, educate young people, and help children find healing. In addition to running the school in Poltava, the organization is conducting trainings for youth on media safety, making documentary films, developing online communication materials, and showcasing their plays. TCD stands firm in its belief that youth can do anything and are capable of much more than they realize.

Donate now to help local organizations provide emergency support to children in Ukraine.



Established by GFC and the Avast Foundation, the Spark Fund invests in youth-led and youth-focused groups tackling injustice and inequality, driving transformational change, and building a more inclusive world by harnessing the power of digital technologies.

Header photo: Members of TCD putting on a theatrical production. © TCD

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