Tereza Souskova, director of the Czech Center Kyiv: Even the soldiers in the front read fast arrows.

“In Kyiv, I am the only director of a cultural institution sent from abroad,” says Tereza Souskova, who has been leading the Czech Center in the Ukrainian capital since last February, in an interview with Novinki live in Kyiv since mid-April. A bravo. “I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to do the work from my living room in Prague,” he adds.

How is cultural life in Kyiv?

Restaurants, cafes and shopping centers are open in Kiev. There are no deserted streets and soldiers on every corner. However, Russian attacks are the order of the day. Whether the missile is shot down by air defenses or debris falls on houses and cars, injuries and casualties occur daily. A curfew is in effect in Kyiv from midnight to five in the morning, and cultural events must adapt to it. For example, a ballet performance must start at five in the afternoon so that the actors and audience can go home on time.

What if the Russians attack the city during the show?

An alarm is sounded, the hall lights are turned on and all the audience, actors, as well as lighting or wardrobe staff, usually gather in the shelter in the basement. It can only be played in theaters with accommodations, and only as many people can attend the show. Then during the attack you are sitting between the prima ballerina and the sales lady at the buffet. After the alarm goes off, the game continues. Sometimes the attack lasts twenty minutes, sometimes several hours.

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How do you organize Czech cultural events in wartime conditions?

It's a scary situation, but you get over it. For example, we organized a Czech concert at the Kyiv Philharmonic building. It was held in an underground lounge, which was small, but we were sure that the show would not be interrupted by an alarm, as the lounge also served as a cover.

But when he went to the same building for a concert in a large hall, the alarm went off ten minutes before the start. We all had to go underground, where we stood for two hours as there were not enough places to sit. I used that time to make arrangements for further collaboration with the directors of the Philharmonic and Orchestra. When going to cultural events, I also have to expect it to be cold there. I wear thermal underwear under my evening dress.

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Are there other hurdles to overcome?

The goal of the Czech Center is to spread and promote Czech culture and language. However, for security reasons, Czech artists or celebrities cannot be invited to conduct the workshop in Kiev. When the Czech Embassy and I organized a concert of Smetana's My Homeland on October 28 last year, it was played not by a Czech band, but by a Ukrainian. Even so, we offer cultural events outside of Kyiv.

Of course, we solve various problems. When we prepared the exhibition of Czech ornaments, we did not know how to get two boxes with fragile contents to Kyiv. Transit services between the Czech Republic and Ukraine are no longer operational.

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Finally, they were brought to us by a Czech diplomat who had just returned to the embassy from a holiday in the Czech Republic. Czech Christmas traditions are described in the exhibition, and we also prepared two workshops for Ukrainian children, where they can make their own pearl ornament and then hang it on the tree at home.

Interested in Czech culture?

The big advantage for me is that I don't have to mentally knock on the door and introduce myself to Czech culture. Ukrainians love her. For example, we were able to translate Quick Arrows into Ukrainian and get them to libraries, and we also organized readings. People were excited that there was something like this besides the classics. Swift Arrows have found their way into libraries in the east of the country, and soldiers at the front are happy to read something like this.

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Before Christmas, we again prepared an event for Ukrainian design students. They chose a similar proverb in Czech and Ukrainian, and then processed it artistically. They completed the course at school and at the same time added their first exhibition to their CV. We also offer Czech language courses, Ukrainians also learn Czech to study at Czech universities. We have hundreds of students.

On the other hand, do you need to know Ukrainian?

It will be a problem if I can't. Many Russian speakers switched to Ukrainian because they did not want to speak the occupier's language. Especially in the field of culture, which is always slightly ahead, knowledge of Ukrainian is highly desirable. The Russians also aim to denigrate Ukrainian culture, saying there is no such thing as Ukrainian culture.

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Can Czech Center be driven from Prague?

In Gaya, I am the only director of a cultural institution sent from abroad, all the other directors are in their own countries. I wanted to be in Kiev from the beginning. Of course, my family betrayed me, but at the same time they knew that Ukraine was my passion, an offer that will not be repeated, especially since I succeeded in a difficult selection process.

When I wrote the comment, I thought that the Czech Republic was helping Ukrainian society in humanitarian ways, with weapons and political support. But culture can also be part of this aid package, I wanted Czechs and Ukrainians to exchange experiences.

I have been ordained for four years, and so far I am only at the beginning. But we have already completed, for example, a series of workshops where young Ukrainian journalists and journalism students gain knowledge from older colleagues from the Czech Republic and Ukraine. We have prepared a similar event for teachers of younger children who often have to teach in difficult conditions, for example the school in Cork in the tunnel.

We are preparing another project for Ukrainian students of Bohemian Studies, who will translate the play Audience by Václav Havel, and then the theater will present it.

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We mentioned Christmas. Did you spend them in Ukraine?

Yes, but I spent most of it in the garage. The building where I live in Kyiv has an underground garage that serves as a shelter. When the attack comes, the Russians often attack at night to keep people awake, sirens sounding. I run to the garages, have a sleeping bag ready in the back seats of the car, and if the attacks are long, I sleep there. I'm one of the lucky ones, and some have to go to the basement during an attack, where they sit on the floor. One would stay in bed during the alarm, but by doing so there was a risk that a rocket or shrapnel would hit his house and he would never wake up.

If you were at work during the attack?

The subway is a ten-minute brisk walk away, and I go there when the going gets rough. Otherwise, I follow the so-called two-wall rule, which means I come and sit between two walls with no windows. The pressure wave can break windows and the shards can injure or kill a person.

Teresa Souskova

He studied Political Science and East European Studies at Charles University, Faculty of Arts. He completed his studies in USA, Russia and Ukraine. She spent a year working and researching in the Caucasus. Between 2019 and 2022, he was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of International Politics. He has been the director of the Czech Center Gavin since February 2023, leading a team of six from Ukraine.

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