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A Very Modern Famous Dancing Group

It’s not a story with a happy end. It’s a very, very sad one. My mum died on the same date, at the
same time, as the war began. My world was broken, I lost everything.

I travelled through ten countries attending rallies for Ukraine before I came here. But after a year of
war, people started to be a bit tired, and just to sing the anthem. It’s not enough and nobody will
see it, nobody will write about it, nobody will talk about it, so we needed to do something different.

It was the end of January, exactly one month before the anniversary of the start of the war. The
closer the anniversary was, the worse I felt because I didn’t know how I would survive this day. It
was the anniversary of my mum’s death and I’m not at her grave, and I’m not at home, and I’m not
with my relatives. I’m an orphan now and there was nobody here who could support me, and it was
the anniversary of the war. I felt guilty because I’m in a peaceful country and some people are dying
every single day in Ukraine. So, my moral condition was awful, I was just in a total moral disaster.

I visited an event on business in the Westgate Library to find new connections, network and maybe
in the future start my own business here. Anja, the artistic director of Justice in Motion, was one of
the speakers and she started to present her project not with words, not with description, but with a
video about modern slavery and how they are helping people with dancing. When she finished, I was
crying because all the people in the venue were crying. I decided, ‘Oh my God, it’s what I need!’
I came to her and asked, ‘Listen, I am from Ukraine, I am refugee, and in one month we will have an
anniversary of the war and what you described, it’s so close, and I would like to be a part of
everything you create. Please help me.’ And she said, ‘Oh no, we have so many different projects, it’s
only one month, it’s impossible.’ And then I told her, ‘But listen, I don’t want something boring, I
want something creative’, and then I say, ‘Maybe on railway station?’. Anja stops and gives me her
business card, it was Friday late evening, and she asked me to call on Monday. And we met and
started to co-create.

The trigger word was ‘railway station’ because several months earlier Anja had been given a
prophecy that she would be doing a flashmob in a train station, which she had written down in her
notes. From then we found a lot of similarities between us, and knew we wanted to do this together.
And so it started. I don’t know, it’s magic. Maybe vibes. Maybe God.

When the war began, people had maybe five or ten minutes to pack, and they had this opportunity
to take something that is important. But you are so disrupted from inside that you don’t understand
what to do. Then later you open your backpack and ‘Oh my God, I have taken no warm clothes, food,
or toothbrush, but I have two dresses!’ Every one of us has different stories but they are all
connected with backpacks, with fleeing, with border control, with railway stations and with moving
further and further. And of course resistance, otherwise we would not survive.

I started to collect people for our first workshop. Ukrainian participants were on my side because I’m
leading the Ukrainian community here in Oxford. It was impossible to describe when new
participants asked me, ‘What is the project about? What will we do?’ because it was sort of political,
supportive, active, sometimes reflective. I could not find any one word to describe it, because it
doesn’t exist.

It was hard to all be together at the same time, in the same place, but some tried to change their
shifts or to re-organise their times at school with children just to be there. Every rehearsal was four
or five hours because we needed to warm up, to talk to them. We met and then talked, cried and brought our memorable things, and again cried. We cried so much, you could not imagine.
Everything we discussed, they tried to recreate in movement, so we didn’t dance some strange
dance, we danced our emotions, we danced our feelings.

We were complicated clients to work with because every night we were worrying about all these
missile attacks and all these bombs. You could plan to have a very efficient and very useful day
tomorrow, but at night, something shit happens and then no connection with your husband, no
internet, no mobile, no anything. Nothing at all. And you have no strength, even just to wake up, just
to wash your face, not even to go somewhere to dance. We are all traumatised. Some people have
lost their husbands, some people have lost everything.
The majority of refugees are women. I call them girls, but we are all different ages and from
different places. But we have got the same troubles and the same problems here. Find a school for
your child, find a job, learn the language, find a sponsor, get a national Insurance number or a GP.
And I think that this project helped all of us to hold off emptiness. We have some kind of plan
because we have a rehearsal on Wednesday at 7pm, and then on Sunday, and then we started to
ask, ‘What is next? Where could we give another performance?’ and instead of refugees, we were
like a very modern, famous, dancing group!

On the day of the first performance, we arrived very, very early to the railway station. It was the
24th of February, the mood was low as Russia were bombing us, but this was the reason to get up
and put on our blue and yellow costumes. It was quite crowded with Monday morning workers, and
we were also like people who were going to work, because we had backpacks on. People are running
or calling or looking for tickets and then suddenly, somewhere one girl started to sing, then another
two girls sing with her, then more and more and more, and then triangles of twelve girls sing. From
the very beginning, it’s very natural, nobody could understand that we are from some community,
the only thing is we wear yellow and blue, our national flag colours, but we don’t have similar
costumes, it’s just blue jeans and yellow t-shirts or something.

So many people stopped, frozen. I think that this suddenness, or this moment of unexpectedness,
plays a very important role, because if we were just singing our national anthem nobody would be so
impressed or so shocked. The key idea is to disrupt, not to shock, because we should show
something that is important, but positive. And we decided to show all these key things, women,
railway station, children, backpacks, emotions, feelings. So, it’s thirty seconds of song, and then our
individual performance of our figures, whatever each of us feels, and then our general dance, where
we are doing the same thing, at the same time and on the same stage. That’s the flashmob.

You have so many negative emotions and everything is inside you, and then when you dance it was
the maximum level of nervousness because it was the first ever time. A real performance after only
ten rehearsals. And people start to applause, and you start to smile, to cry, to hug, to love each
other, it’s like a maximum level of feeling. People on the railway station were crying. They cried.
Afterwards we were crying, we were hugging.

I feel so thankful to Anja that she helped me, to support these girls, because I couldn’t do nothing by
myself because I was alone, and she created for us a meaning to live, meaning to wake up, meaning
to exist. I think this project is a very good example for my children because they see that I don’t give
up, I do something, and I have recreated and restarted my life. You want to be useful. You want to
be a small, particular part of something big. And it worked.

George Mayfield