Maria Bakalo (Masha)

Ukraine, Lviv, December 2017  2018 Lviv
Lead picture: Maria Bakalo (Masha) during a rehearsal of a new performance.

I met Masha in 2016 and revisited her in 2017. Simferopol is her birthplace but she moved to Lviv as cultural life is more developed there. Going home to her parents is difficult now as Russia has annexed Crimea. She is a part-time contemporary dance lecturer at the university. Dance is a big thing in Ukraine, where culture is in high esteem and part of everyday life. In addition, she also gives classes at one of the local dance schools and plays a big role in the contemporary art scene. I am interested in contact improvisation dance, an art form that borders on meditation. Masha introduced me to his style of dance.

Masha threads
Masha during rehearsal for a performance

The dressing room is mixed-sex and busy, shoes as always in Ukraine taken off at the entrance. The program of the school is varied and also includes pole dancing, catwalking (“may be nice for your boyfriend”). Many forms of dance are practised here. Kamasutra documentation lies around. Yoga is popular and classes are not cheap for Ukrainian budgets. Judging by the schedules the rehearsal rooms are more or less booked for most of the week.

Bovka is her boyfriend, they met during her classes, he was a pupil. Bovka (or more polite Vova, V is B in Cyrillic) is a nickname for Volodimir (Volodya) as Masha is for Maria. Ukrainian is good in these “short” endearments (or in the case of Bovka slightly jokingly rude variations of names). I am invited to their home 15 km outside Lviv. We drive there in the dark (no streetlights) on bumpy roads at for me rather high speed. A lot of building is going on, the city is spreading out. Bovka built his wooden house to his own design, no building permits needed here. He is now in the building industry after his job with a German insurance company was terminated when all the trouble started in 2014. He also works as a hardware engineer with an IT company.

The house is modest in size as he does not plan too far ahead, unlike many neighbours. They build way too big houses and cannot finish them as their money runs out. He has prepared a second story though so some future planning is already in his head.

The new wooden house could use painting and Vova likes red and black. As I inform about Masha’s preferences for colors of the house I am surprised to hear she feels this is Bovka’s decision as it his his house….Though both of them live there she feels she has not contributed a penny to the house so …. all is his decision. Very unlike the Netherlands where normally the lady of the house decides. Masha explains that in this area traditionally the man is the head of the family. Also, her country has bigger issues to address now it is at war…. However she takes note of my observation.

A garden makes the house a little quiet paradise, with plumtrees and vegetables at the back (amongst others the “cabachok”, courgette, the staple food of the poor. At night he lights a fire and we bake potatoes with krip (dill, or me Swedish but here Ukrainian). Bovka is also a guide for mountain hikes in the Carpathians, the dream holiday of many Ukrainians. The cat takes a liking to me, I am flattered.

At night Vova makes a fire in the garden and we bake kartoplya (potatoes) and some kovbasa (sausages) Masha makes tea and hot lemon water (a dancers drink, no sugar and the drink makes you eat less…). Sleeping is improvised, my bed is on the sofabed in the living room. We sleep with the doors open, something I have earlier noticed seems customary; this gives me a warm feeling of togetherness.

The next day the way back is by crowded avtobus. The fare is low but for a daily commute still a burden to the household budget. On the way to the bus stop the scenery is for my eyes somewhat chaotic, the road is unpaved and the houses mostly have fences of some kind around the gardens. Still a green, friendly environment, partly urbanised.


I am told the village was visited by some officials and the main road was somewhat repaired. However, most of the budget for the renovation of roads had disappeared again as usual. The local population, therefore, had blocked the main road in protest. Masha tells all was in vain as nothing happened. My friends see it as defeat. For me, it is different, a victory as these people spoke up and united for their cause. I hope they continue doing this as just the continuous protests will on the long term have success. Ukrainians find it difficult to speak up for themselves, a heritage from the Soviet era where the KGB could be at the door and the family could be deported the next day.

In 2017 Masha and Vova married and are now the proud parents of a lovely son named Oreste. The house will be painted one day and I am sure Masha has a big say in it. I had the honour to stay with them once more, now during the cold winter. Ukrainian hospitality goes a long way. A happy couple in a country where life is a struggle. In 2018 they moved (temporarily) to Kyiv where Vova found a good job. Masha has left her badly paid position at the university and is successfully teaching dance, giving workshops, and organising and curating festivals of national stature like ARTIL; the pictures here were shot at First Theater in Lviv during their Ukraine wide tour in November 2018..


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