Student actors from Ukraine participate in production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ 

Eldar Kabirov, right, and Zhanna-Oleksandra Honcharova. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

There’s a scene in the Santa Clarita Regional Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” that always makes Zhanna-Oleksandra Honcharov cry, and she couldn’t even get through explaining why without tearing up.  

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a story about Ukrainian Jews going through the motions of their community’s everyday life. Its first act could be a page from anyone’s life: the frustrations of one’s job, their economic status, their love life and their relationships with those around them.  

But at the end of the act one, during a wedding, a celebration of life, everything is suddenly disrupted and destroyed by an unprovoked Russian attack — forcing everyone to leave their country.  

“I think it’s very important for people to know that even though (Ukraine) is far away, it’s not something from a different world and you never know when it can come to your house, to your home,” said Honcharov.  

During the time that “Fiddler on the Roof” takes place, around 1905, Ukraine was part of the Russian empire — although it had, and still does have, its own culture and history. Most people in Ukraine did not consider themselves as Russian, but as Ukrainians. The region was its own republic as part of the Soviet Union starting in 1917 but still under the grip of Moscow. It became a fully independent nation in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.  

Dress rehearsal with cast members, including Any Mattick, center, who plays Tevye. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Honcharov is a Ukrainian from Kyiv and performs in the ensemble in “Fiddler on the Roof.” She has been studying here in the United States since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and would visit during her summer and winter breaks. 

During the pandemic, she went back to Ukraine because she struggled learning when classes were online. Once in-person instruction returned, so did she. But two weeks after her return, in 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military invasion into Ukraine and listed the country’s history of being under the control of Moscow in the past as part of his justification for it.  

Kyiv was hit hard. It was shelled, civilians were killed and normal everyday life in Ukraine was either disrupted or destroyed. Nearly 6 million were forced to flee and millions more were displaced, but couldn’t leave. Honcharov’s parents were among them.  

Portrait of Zhanna-Oleksandra Honcharova. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Her father could not leave due to an order for men to stay in the country and her mother would not leave his side. Talk among her friends turned from college-age gossip and small talk to whether they had a home, or their lives, anymore.  

“I would read in books about World War ll and I would read about it and be like, ‘It was a long time ago but it’s like something from the past,” said Honcharov. “Now, we read the same exact stories about people in my country right now … and people have to leave their home and (it’s like) the same thing.” 

Honcharov was happy to be sharing the stage with another Ukrainian, Eldar Kabirov. The war has affected them both in ways they could never imagine. Honcharov said one of her friends lost their home in Kherson — the location of a major battle in 2022 — after it was flooded when the nearby Kakhovka dam collapsed.   

Kabirov, who plays Fyedka in the production, said some of his friends are still dying. His parents are in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine where fighting has been taking place since 2014 — long before the invasion in 2022. The city is currently under occupation by Russia.  

His parents are in the same situation as Honcharov’s — his father must remain in the country and his mother refuses to leave him. They both want to flee, but the application process to do so is difficult and crowded with applicants.  

Portrait of Eldar Kabirov. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“I still remember I didn’t sleep at 5 o’clock in the morning, and I heard the bombs rushing near our place,” said Honcharov. “It’s terrible, it’s unusual. I just don’t know how to explain (it) correct.” 

Both acknowledged the privilege of following their dream in Southern California but with each moment of joy comes worry, anger and pain. Kabirov said that many in the United States may be weary of hearing the news from the fronts, but expressed the news will stop once the war stops.  

Kabirov added: “We wanted to remind all the people who are tired from war, tired from bad news … that in Ukraine, we still have people dying, houses are crashing and we need (the) support of other civil people.”  

The Santa Clarita Regional Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented by the Canyon Theatre Guild, is running weekends through Aug. 13 at the Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons. Tickets and more information are available at 

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