A brilliant and modest woman speaking Ukrainian fluently. Absolutely and totally in love with her job as she popularizes the Roma culture via dancing.
She has been acting as the solo singer in one of the world’s best Roma bands – the Bakhtale band from the city of Mykolayiv. She has won the World Cup in Gypsy dancing. And she has launched her own band, “Terne Roma”, which is the only Roma ensemble in Ukraine having the award of a reference band. And she also launched her own dancing school where both Gypsy dances and ballroom and contemporary dances are taught.
During the full-scale invasion, Victoria has stayed with her family in Ukraine almost all the time, delivering online lessons. And now she has come back to her native Mykolayiv, reassuring that the city and its residents are living on, looking forward to the Victory.
From occasional private dancing lessons to creating a team and a job of her life
Victoria says that her way to Gypsy dances was a long one, she had long been searching her mission.
– I studied choreography in the University for cultural studies (Mykolayiv affiliate of Kyiv National University for Arts and Cultural Studies – Editor). There we performed dances in various styles but still I longed for my own one. I used to get a glance from the elderly, in my community, in various wedding parties. I was really interested in it.
As her creative pursuit was in progress, Victoria had already been working for some time. She taught choreography and eurhythmics at a school, delivered private lessons. And so it happened that one of the mothers asked her to teach Gypsy dances for her daughter, for she liked them very much. The woman agreed to do that.
– So I practiced with the girl for a whole year, although I did not take it as something serious and promising that private lessons. And then it happened so that from a single session an idea came to build up a team, which has now grown into a reference one, and the Gypsy dances have become my profession.
– My first student’s name was Angelique, and I will never forget her. She came to me first as she was only 5, while now she has turned 20, and she is a frequent visitor at our concerts. It is indeed a pleasure to be remembered by my students.
Apart from being the lead dancer in the band, Victoria has also launched her own dancing studio.
She says that the hardest thing to do was to have courage to make the decision. But her husband supports and helps her in the work.
– He is sure to believe in my job more than I do myself. He is very proud of me, supports me, for he can see how deep I am into my job.
The studio opened in 2019, only to go for the lockdown in half a year.
– Since that time it was so hard for us to exit from the lockdown and then the war started. Now, in January, it is actually the third time we have opened. But I do believe that everything is going to be alright and even more so – better than it used to be before.
On the eve of February 24, we were getting ready for the presentation of our new show, not for the war
On the evening of February 23, we were having a photo session. Students were busy, actively involved in the promoting campaign for their would-be show, under the title “Gypsy Fire” scheduled for March. Almost everything was ready: the program compiled, the hall taken for rent, banners printed out, and the ticket sale was supposed to start any day.
– I was so excited with preparations for the show, literally snowed under with work, that I had no time for following the news.
But there was already some tension in the air. By late March, the band were planning a tour in the city of Kramatorsk. And the children’s parents were saying that maybe the tour should be postponed due to the tense situation.
Another thing as Victoria is now recollecting, happened in early February. A student approached her, whose husband was a military, asking her opinion on a possible war to break out.
– At that time I replied, reassuring her: “No, no way! We are living in a civilized world! What war? We need to dance and concentrate on our work.” I did not take the threat seriously.
So when the war did start – that was a stress, a shock, with no understanding of the situation.
Luckily, Victoria’s studio was located in the basement, and the first 3 weeks the family, friends, some students were hiding from the Russian bombs there.
Then they got evacuated to Bulgaria but soon returned to the city of Odessa.
– The first 7 months we stayed in Odessa, and here we are returning to our native Mykolayiv in January.
“We are happy to perform abroad for the audience under the Ukrainian flag, and then come back home anyway”
Together with her team, Victoria had an opportunity to perform with a concert in Poland, dedicated to the Independence Day in Ukraine. Artists from both countries appeared on the stage together.
-It was a pleasure for the dancers to be invited on that day by the Polish. We had a really warm welcome.
So we acted out a dance under the title “Good Evening. We are from Ukraine”, as our final dance. The track features some interesting modulations, somewhat similar to Roma songs, so it was natural to add some of our movements.
The dancing girl says that it was just in August that they met the Polish dancers, while before the full-scale invasion they had closest relations with Russian dancers. Of course, after February 24, all the communication had to be stopped.
– We used to take part in various international contests and festivals, used to be good colleagues with them. But since Russia started bombing us, none of them ever wondered how things go on with us or we are still alive. That’s why we do not communicate with them anymore.
When asked whether she is still willing to go on a tour over other European countries, Victoria replies in the affirmative:
– That would be very cool, provided Europeans wished to see the variety of the Ukrainian culture, through the Gypsy dances, too. We are happy to perform before the audience under the Ukrainian flag, bound to come back home.
– Many of my colleagues have moved abroad, though not all of us have an opportunity to work by their specialty. And it is indeed very sad when artists have to work as laborers at plants, to earn for a living. And that’s another reason why I did not want to leave. I am willing to stay in Ukraine, most of all – in the city of Mykolayiv, doing my favorite job.
“Mykolayiv is wounded but alive. Everything around me is mine, and I don’t want to leave anywhere”
Victoria is resuming her tutorship in Mykolayiv since January.
– Many of my acquaintances asked me why I’m not staying in Odessa, for it is indeed a great city, and I could accommodated much better there. And, not a single studio teaching Gypsy dances. There is indeed a great demand for them over here.
During the 7 months Victoria has spent in Odessa, she has got lots of customers who like this kind of dance. And, although Mykolayiv is much smaller than Odessa, the woman is still determined to come back:
– Everybody knows me here; my students are waiting for me, studying online meanwhile and willing to get back to the studio. I cannot betray them.
– Mykolayiv is my native city, and I had no doubts if I should return here. The only thing I didn’t know was when that could be. It was my deliberate decision to come back now, even though it is not quite safe yet. After the liberation of Kherson, the number of shelling has decreased by times, and we’re watching our army’s success, hoping it is going to get better all the time.
Tears standing her eyes, Victoria goes on:
– I just wish I could breathe in enough air here, for it is kind of home one. I keep walking around Mykolayiv, feeling myself a human. All around me belongs to me, and I don’t want to leave from here anywhere. Despite the fear, for shelling occurs from time to time. But you know, there’s no place like home.
Yes, the city has changed. Mykolayiv has been wounded but it is still alive. It hurts watching the blocked windows, shop windows, ruined houses.
But still, Victoria says, despite the hard and bad news from the mass-media, life is returning to Mykolayv.
– Many people have returned during these 2 months. And it’s obvious, as small kids are running about the streets, cafés are opening, business is working. Lots of cars and traffic jams (I could never imagine I would enjoy this fact!).
– The only major domestic problem is water. The supply is there but it is not the clean water from the Dnieper river we are used to but salty technical one damaging the pipelines. But I do hope that the issue will be solved in a few days. And Mykolayiv lives on, and I’m sure everything will be alright.
“I wish I could go to the sea in the Crimea”
When Victoria was asked the traditional question “What are you going to do after the Victory?”, she replied with joy:
– A great concert! A bright one, you know, loud and unforgettable one.
Another of my great whishes is to take a trip to the seashore in the Crimea. And I don’t mind even drinking a beer or two over there (smiling). And for now I wish I could go to bed without air alarms, not scaring I will never wake up.
I have travelled a lot around Ukraine. We used to be invited to various holidays, shows, festivals. Everybody takes Gypsy dancing, songs and music very positively, this is really something everybody likes. That’s why my dream is to have more opportunities to travel our wonderful country after the Victory.
Article by Halyna Hychka, the Varosh media
Photos and videos used in the article have been kindly granted by the main character.
This article has been compiled with the support from the International “Renaissance” Fund, within the scope of the project “Counteraction to prejudices and stereotypes towards Roma during war, consolidation around the common strive for victory”. The article reflects the authors’ opinions, which may not necessarily coincide with that by the International “Renaissance” Fund