Backstory and Origin of the Viral Video Showing a Theatrical Performance in a Church in Ukraine

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Update: On February 2nd, information about an event held in another church in Ukraine, the video of which has been actively circulating on social networks since January 31st, was added to the article.

On January 15-22th, selected Georgian-language Facebook profiles that regularly disseminate disinformation, including those related to the pro-Kremlin Conservative Movement, as well as Russian-language accounts, published 2 videos depicting various theatrical performances held in churches. The descriptions of the posts, as well as the comments accompanying the video, claim that after the “expulsion” of Russian priests and the “shutdown” of churches in Ukraine, Ukrainians started behaving against Christian traditions and spirituality in the Orthodox churches.

The video released on January 15th (1,2,3) shows people dressed in traditional clothes conducting a performance accompanied by music in a church. On January 17th, the video was broadcast in Gia Gachechiladze’s program “Kidobani.” After airing the video at 47:40, the guest, Goga Khaindrava, claimed that the scene was called “Kill the Jew.” It should be noted that this video was also shared on Twitter by the account of the Russian Embassy in Spain, with the description: “The new reality of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, what should happen to them to understand what the Kyiv regime is doing.”

As for the second video (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8), depicting a performance held in the church, the footage shows young people dressed as devils and Putin participating in a performance. This video was aired (1,2) on the pro-Kremlin “Sezoni TV,” where the host, Nikolz Mzhavanadze, noted that “unprecedented blasphemy” is happening in Ukraine, and even fascists and Nazis did not behave this way.

Update: On January 31st, another video showing a theatrical performance in the church was disseminated on Facebook. The video was circulated by the Facebook page “Home to Europe” and individual Facebook users( 1,2,3,4,5,6). According to the attached description, the video was recorded in an Orthodox Church.

The videos of performances held in churches were not shot in churches under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (ПЦУ), but in Greek-Catholic churches. The performances are rooted in Ukrainian Christmas-New Year traditions.

  • Where are the videos of theatric performances recorded?

The video disseminated on January 15th was shot in Zavarnitsa, in the Basilica of the Virgin of Zavarnitsa, a theological centre named after St. Mary. The Zavarnitsa complex is located in Ternopil Oblast in Western Ukraine and is one of the main sanctuaries of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

A view of the altar from the viral video 
The Altar in the Basilica of Zavarnitsa.Source: Марійський духовний центр “Зарваниця”

As for the second video, according to the posts disseminated on Facebook, it is located in Truskavets. The article prepared by the Union of Orthodox Journalists stated that the theatrical performance was held in Truskavets, in the Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin. The material also mentions that the video was initially published by the local priest, Volodymyr Bondarchuk, who later removed it. The source of the photo used in the material is the link to Volodymyr Bondarchuk’s Facebook profile, which made it possible to verify the profile.

Currently, the video is no longer available on Bondarchuk’s Facebook page, although a number of photos taken at the theatre event can be found on his page. Bondarchuk often posts about the Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin, which also belongs to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Another video showing a performance held in a church has been circulating since January 31st. The mentioned video was also shot in the Greek-Catholic church. The video shows the frescoes of the church’s ceiling and the rock, which made it possible to find the name of the church. The video was shot in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, Ivano-Frankivsk, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine. A panoramic view of the interior can be found on the official website of the church.

Photos taken inside the Church are also published on its Facebook page.

Source: Архікатедральний і Митрополичий Собор Воскресіння Христового УГКЦ (1,2)
  • Which Ukrainian traditions are reflected in the performances? 

It should be noted that the performances held in both churches are somewhat related to Ukrainian Christmas and New Year traditions. In Slavic culture, the period from the end of December to Epiphany is associated with Kalyada – the celebration of Christmas and New Year holidays. During this period, especially among children and young people, singing, dancing, performing various theatrical performances, visiting houses, and organizing costumed processions are rather common; This process is called “Kolyaduvanya” (колядуванная), and the songs that are sung during Kolyaduvanya are called Kolyadki. Kolyadki is performed in different times, places and styles, including churches (1,2,3). Vertep, a Christmas nativity scene recreating biblical scenes related to Christ is also a rather common tradition in Ukraine. Verteps are of different kinds, including theatrical ones. However, theatrical performances with human participation are also popular. It is believed that there should be at least three people in a vertep.

Vertep’s characters include the astrologer, the angel, the shepherds, the three kings, the Jew, the devil, Death, Herod, the Cossack, and the princess. It is possible that other characters also participate in the performance. The main story of vertep is related to King Herod. After Herod learns of the birth of Jesus and orders the slaughter of children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem, this cruelty causes Herod to die, and the devils drag him into the flames of hell.

The performance held in the Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin in the city of Truskavetsk is probably linked to this Christmas tradition. In the performance video, we see Putin, devils and death. It can be seen from the dialogue between the parties that Putin is equated with Herod; he wants to create a “Russian world” and defeat Ukraine, but Putin is defeated by death, who predicts victory and eternal life for Ukraine because it unites free people who glorify Jesus. Other parts of the performance are not visible in the distributed video; however, the Facebook page of the priest of the church, Volodymyr Bondarchuk, features other photos of the performance, which show that part of the theatrical performance was a more traditional staging of the Nativity scene.

Source: Volodymyr Bondarchuk

The Facebook descriptions of the posts circulating about the video taken in the Basilica of Zavarnica mention that a “Jew is being killed” during the performance, although the character, who is grabbed by the group and thrown in the air, is wearing a costume of a black goat with white horns.

Notably, the goat is also a character related to Ukrainian Christmas traditions. In Ukraine, there is a tradition of “bringing a goat” (вождения козы). Before the coming of the Old New Year in Ukraine, people used to celebrate “Shedri Vecher”, and on January 13, young people dressed in different costumes organized a procession. Among the characters should be Malanka, Goat and Grandpa, and popular characters such as Death, Devil, Grandma, and a Roma. The role of Malanka must be played by a young boy. According to the ritual, Grandpa must kill the goat by hitting it with a stick, then regret killing the goat and try to revive the goat by singing, dancing and giving various gifts. In some regions, the goat is brought back to life by a doctor. The idea of the performance is the victory of life over death. The story is played out in different variations. Most likely, this tradition has pre-Christian roots, is related to agriculture, and was especially important during the winter solstice, when spring was still a long time away. In the modern period, it is connected with general Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The video published on January 31st depicts a performance related to the Christmas traditions of Vertep and Kolyaduvania. The video shows the Christmas star (Різдвяна зірка), which is a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and is carried by the participants of the procession during Kolyaduvania.

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Country: Ukraine

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