KYIV, Ukraine — Soon to be deployed as a soldier to Ukraine’s battlefields, Serhiy Lipko and Anastasia Zukhvala decided to marry first, like a growing number of couples torn apart by war with Russia.
Like others, her nuptials were hasty and smaller than they would have been in peacetime, with only a few dozen close friends and family. He wore a simple crown of blue flowers in his hair. And then, because laughter can be medicinal and because Lipko was building a career as a comedian before he called out for his country, they headed to a stand-up comedy club in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
There, with his new wife watching from the wings, he took the stage in an olive green uniform and soon had the crowd on edge with bone-chilling humor about the military and married life. He joked that military training with NATO instructors had been a great opportunity for him to practice his English, and how nervous he had been handling expensive military equipment for fear of breaking it.
War is not even remotely funny, but Ukrainians are learning to laugh at how awful it all is. Not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to: to stay sane in the brutality that has killed tens of thousands of people, is upending Ukraine, millions of lives, and the world order as it is unleashed on the front lines in the east and south. from the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his troops, especially the dead and wounded, are the favorite targets of Ukraine’s black humor in times of war. But there are red lines: the Ukrainian dead are not laughed at and the darkest battles, including the brutal siege of Mariupol and the port city’s Azovstal steelworks, are too raw for jokes. The same goes for the atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere.
“Tragedies cannot and will never be the subject of humor,” said Zukhvala, who also works as a comedian, as she and Lipko embraced with the tenderness of newlyweds after their show and picked up bouquets, wondering in out loud how they had arranged. I would find room for them at home.
“This is an absolutely crazy moment, beyond ordinary experience,” he said. “Our life now is made of paradoxes, and it can even be fun.”
Ukraine’s most famous comedian is Volodymyr Zelenskyy, now the country’s president, elected in 2019. In the TV comedy series “Servant of the People,” the former comedian and actor played a lovable high school teacher who accidentally becomes president, before becoming president. he later actually became a real one. But Zelenskyy hasn’t had much cause for comedy since the February 24 invasion landed him in the role of wartime leader. His daily video messages to the nation are often somber and forceful.
But while he works to rally international support and soldiers fight with Western-supplied tanks, artillery and tons of weaponry, Ukrainians far from the front lines use jokes and humor as weapons, against the anxiety and moodiness of wartime, against Russia and to feel as one, both laughing and crying together in their pain and anger.
Yuliia Shytko, 29, said she felt much better after laughing out loud with the rest of the crowd through routines by Lipko and other comedians at the basement comedy club, the vast majority of their jokes revolving around about war-related issues.
“Laughing and stuff, that’s how you get by,” Shytko said.
Lipko and Zelenskyy crossed paths in comedy before the war completely altered their trajectories. The future president, who was still an entertainer, was a member of the jury in 2016 on the TV game show “Make a comedian laugh.” Lipko was a contestant. He wore camouflage uniform because he was in the middle of military service and recited jokes about his experiences in the army. He made Zelenskyy laugh by joking that he would buy a PlayStation if he won first prize, which he eventually did. So they spoke in Russian; both stick to Ukrainian in public now.
Lipko still enjoys military life, even as he prepares in a matter of days to leave his girlfriend behind to fight. The army gave him a day off to get married, a quick in and out of a marriage bureau where his comedian friends ruffled the registrar’s pens with jokes.
“We laughed a lot,” said comedian Anton Tymoshenko, who attended and also performed later that night at the club.
Lipko’s nickname in the army is “the comedian”. During his routine, he joked that some things his fellow soldiers say and do are so funny that he can’t help but use them as fodder for his stand-up, despite telling them he wouldn’t. He then said that his comedic outlook should help him hold out in battle.
“I am a comedian who temporarily became a military man,” he said. “I have creative plans and projects for after the war. There are things to live for.”
Zukhvala said she tells herself “we will win and everything will be fine.” She wants a big wedding celebration when peace returns.
Tymoshenko said he and his other comedian friends will take care of her while Lipko is gone.
But he has concerns of his own: he has been trying to persuade his parents to leave their village in the south which he feels is too close to the Russian advance, but to his dismay they laugh at the danger. Her mother joked that if Russian missiles destroyed her potato patch, it would save her the extra work.
“My mother never joked before the war,” he said. “They use my weapons against me… and that is unfair.”
Hanna Arhirova contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine