Putin is Skiing /a play about the birth of a killer/

Putin is Skiing /a play about the birth of a killer/

An onstage report about Vladimir Putin’ rise to power and how he has pointed Russia towards a totalitarian system, the play is based on the book “A Russian Diary” by Russian journalist Anna Politkovska, who was murdered in 2006.

Written by Pavla Dombrovská (after A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya)
Direction: Pavla Dombrovská
Puppets: Marika Bumbálková
Costume design and properties: Matěj Sýkora a Lenka Jabůrková
Music: Tomáš Vtípil; Russian and Chechen folk songs
Stage design: Luděk Vémola, Marika Bumbálková

For adults 12+ / Duration: 60 minutes

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About performance

We have been presenting the performance Putin is skiing for the thirteenth year. Unfortunately, only recently has it become quite apparent why we do this. At first, our play had the subtitle “what we don’t want to know”. Since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022, we present it with the subtitle “a play about the birth of a killer”. The performances are accompanied by discussions with those who are helping or risking their lives in Ukraine to give personal testimony about the situation.
It is necessary to persist in helping Ukraine until its victory. That’s why we will continue to support Ukraine in our own way – through theater, making aid options visible, and through financial support.

The play is based on the book “A Russian Diary” by Russian journalist Anna Politkovska, who was murdered in 2006. Material from web sites prepared by the bereaved survivors of some victims of terrorist attacks is also used.

The performance Putin is Skiing won Jan Wilkowski Award and Award for Direction at International Festival of Puppet Theatre Spotkania in Toruń in 2011. At the International Theatrical Festival Valise 2012 in Łomża, the jury awarded also actors performing in the production – Luděk Vémola and Tomáš Machek.

The play is a part of the project PROVOKUJÍCÍ DIVADLO. Supported by Funds EHP 2014-2021.

From the program of the performance:

„It turned out that we are far from where we saw ourselves when celebrating the arrival of Gorbachev and demonstrating with Yeltsin, but somewhere on the road between the Stalinist era and Brezhnevism. However, that road also leads back, from Brezhnev’s stagnation to the times of Stalin, when everything is allowed. Which is a terrible realization… I mean, not only about the state power we have, but also about who we are ourselves. More precisely: who we are ourselves, that’s what the state power is like…” (from the book “Putin’s Russia” by Anna Politkovskaya, translated by Libor Dvořák)



Anna Politkovskaya gained fame as a journalist for the weekly Novaya Gazeta, for which she wrote from 1999 to 2006. This period coincided with the rise of President Vladimir Putin and the Second Chechen War.

Both of these topics were at the center of the fearless journalist’s attention, who wrote about human rights abuses in Chechnya and the restriction of personal freedoms in Russia. In her last book, “Putin’s Russia,” she accused the Russian secret police of attempting to return to a dictatorship in the Soviet style.

Abroad, she earned great admiration for her work and received numerous prestigious awards. In her own country, she faced threats, survived several assassination attempts, notably poisoning. In October 2006, she was ultimately shot in her Moscow home.

Her death once again highlighted how dangerous the profession of journalism is in Russia. On the website of the Foundation for the Defense of Journalism (www.gdf.ru), there is a list of journalists who have died in Russia as a result of their work. The list, covering the period from 1991 to April 2010, includes 330 names. However, this list does not include lawyers, human rights activists, or opposition politicians, whose violent deaths are also common in Russia. Investigations into these murders almost never lead to the apprehension of the perpetrators, as is the case with Anna Politkovskaya.

Open Letter to Presidential Candidates (January 2003):

..We would like to hear how each of you would behave if elected; whether you would ensure a truly independent and unbiased investigation that would bring down the wall of silence surrounding the deaths of our loved ones… The current President of the Russian Federation had not only a formal but also a moral obligation to answer our questions – after all, the death of our loved ones was and is directly related to his political career and his decisions. He supported the hardline stance of the people in this country in the past presidential elections, precisely following the explosions in residential buildings. It was Putin himself who personally ordered the use of a narcotic gas in Dubrovka…”

Questions about the Residential Building Explosions:

  1. Why did the authorities prevent the investigation of events in Ryazan, where FSB employees were directly caught preparing a similar explosion in a residential building?
  2. Why did the Chairman of the State Duma, Seleznyov, announce the explosion in Volgodonsk three days before it actually occurred?
  3. Why was the discovery of sacks of hexogen labeled ‘SUGAR,’ which occurred in the fall of 1999 at a military base in Ryazan, not investigated?
  4. Why, under pressure from the FSB, was the investigation halted into the transfer of hexogen from military warehouses in Ryazan through the research institute Roskonverszryvcentr to front companies?
  5. Why was lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, who identified an FSB agent who rented space in the building on Gurianova Street where the explosive device was eventually placed, arrested?

Questions about Dubrovka:

  1. Why was the decision to use gas in the assault made at the very moment when realistic possibilities for the liberation of all hostages were emerging?
  2. Did the authorities know that the explosion would not actually occur?
  3. Why were all terrorists, including the completely helpless ones, killed instead of being captured by the intervention unit, providing an opportunity to interrogate them during the investigation?
  4. Why did the authorities conceal the existence of Ch. Tekirbayev, who also participated in the seizure of the Dubrovka Theater, turned out to be an FSB agent, and after his name became known, died in a car accident?
  5. Why were the hostages not provided with first aid during the special rescue operation, ultimately leading to the death of 130 people?”

 (Anna Politkovská: A Russian Diary)

In rrussian: http://www.zalozhniki.ru/roo/56356.html


Technical specification

Media KIT

Advertising materials
(poster, programme, photo)

In the performance, real events are mentioned, which you can learn more about on these websites:

Residential building explosions www.terror99.ru
Beslan tragedy: www.pravdabeslana.ru, www.golosbeslana.ru

Lists of murdered and missing journalists (Glasnost Defense Foundation): www.gdf.ru

Additional sources on current events in Russia:


Even though the theater performance ‘Putin Skiing’ about the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been playing for several years, I saw it only now. It was an exceptionally powerful experience. The performance is minimalist, with three actors playing through the diary entries of Politkovskaya. I haven’t been so struck by the impact, clarity, and rawness of images about contemporary Russia as during this play for a long time.” (Ondřej Kundra after the performance of ‘Putin Skiing’ on August 5, 2021)

How Putin Came to Happiness
Jana Machalická
People’s Newspaper, October 7, 2010

For the portrayal of contemporary Russian politics as a grotesque farce, director Pavla Dombrovská needed nothing more than a battered desk. And puppets – “matryoshkas,” eloquently unfolding from one to another, from Lenin to Stalin and from him to Putin, who, in the end, literally pushes the big bear out of his belly.

‘Putin Skiing’ from the Líšeň Theatre, based on the book by murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, aligns itself with the genre of documentary and political theater. It fulfills this genre in a truly original way: it is performed in a military tent, and the only set is a writing desk. On and around it, the grim images of today’s Russia unfold.

The grotesquely satirical form may remind some of Karel Král’s work, such as ‘Standa Has a Problem,’ which created a similar domestic panorama with two-dimensional puppet figures with real heads. ‘Putin Skiing’ could be considered a mordant of its kind, as the story of the father’s march to Moscow is horrifyingly absurd. The matryoshka puppet Putin (with an authentic face) can be manipulated from different sides; suddenly its tentacles grow like an octopus, then it skis, rides in a tank, flies like a rocket, and bathes in a golden tub surrounded by girls. Lenin and Stalin hover over him like benevolent godfathers.

Everything is handled by two excellently talented actors who not only know how to play from various corners of the peculiar set but also drive the performance with their intensely expressive style towards impressive carnivalization. They emerge from the illuminated drawers of the table, light candles for the deceased with a gas burner, embody terrorists and dedicated officials. When strange terrorist attacks unfold from Moscow to Beslan, tin silhouettes of unknown people fall into the drawers. The guys then attach them to their mantles like medals… Director Pavla Dombrovská provides a factual commentary on the “events in the writing desk” by reading selected passages from Politkovskaya’s book. The audience gradually realizes the horror of the reality that they previously perceived as a fragmented sequence of events in a distant country. Dombrovská’s deliberately non-acting delivery is a minor flaw, perhaps it would have worked better if the text were read with the necessary meanings and accents.


Letter from Senator and War Correspondent
Jaromír Štětina

Dear members of the Líšeň Theatre, At the beginning of November, I watched your performance ‘Putin Skiing’ in Brno. The performance impressed me with its profound truthfulness and the ability to address a serious political theme with cruel ironic exaggeration. I consider the staging of this performance a significant dramaturgical act and recommend it to anyone who would like to share a deep artistic and human experience.

That the performance is based on the texts of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in Moscow some time ago, means a strong personal experience for me. Anna Politkovskaya was my journalistic colleague and personal friend. Thank you for choosing her words to depict today’s Russia.

With friendly respect,
Jaromír Štětina,
November 23, 2010

Accused: Vladimir Putin
Radka Kunderová
Puppeteer, April 2010

Unique political satire from the Líšeň Theatre

A woman with long raven hair and captivating eyes stands in a military tent and accuses Vladimir Putin. In the courtyard of the Lužánky leisure center in Brno, a passionate civic gesture unfolds from the principal of the Líšeň Theatre, Pavla Dombrovská.

In front of just a few dozen spectators, completely away from social life, she reads from the diary of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, giving a voice to the critic of the Putin regime, who was shot by an unknown assailant in 2006. Together, they accuse the former Russian president and current prime minister of tolerating or even supporting terrorism, restricting personal freedoms, and intolerable arrogance.

A shabby table with drawers comes to life with two actors whose inventive grotesque gags are far from mere illustrations of episodes read by Dombrovská from the book. Most are so vivid and multi-layered that the audience has to work to keep up with the movement of the theatrical character and the contexts of the metaphors. Drawers pop out like problems, which Putin tried to “shove into the drawer.” The production is a remarkable combination of drama and object theatre, creating an original “puppet” political satire that Czech theatre hasn’t seen since Karel Král’s staged reading ‘Standa Has a Problem.’

The Brno theatre fully identifies with Politkovská’s perspective and does not strive for political correctness or balance. On the contrary, it presents an entirely one-sided, anti-Putin image of Russia in recent years, creating, by our standards, unusually sharp, purely political theatre…


Just Like Putin
Iva Mikulová
Theatre news, September 2010

…small acting studies complement the readings from the book, but during the performance, these readings begin to dominate over the acting. The initially ironic and light atmosphere gradually turns into an indictment of Putin; there is no room for his defense, just as there is no opportunity for the audience to even take a breath.

The events in the oppressive, dark brown military tent are concentrated around the already worn-out wooden table, serving as the stage. The book, lifted perpendicular by Kniha, transforms it into a projection screen, behind which props can be hidden and prepared. Symbolic scenic images are successful, such as blowing out candles for killed journalists and “burying” them in half-broken drawers. The attempts to caricature foolish Russian Putin supporters (with the necessary Cossack dance to Russian music) are less exaggerated… Pavla Dombrovská reads from the book ‘Russian Diary,’ directly accusing Putin of the events in Dubrovka, Beslan, or blaming him for the murder of politically inconvenient individuals. She ironically criticizes the attempt to lie out of responsibility. Naming the new president, Putin’s “appendage” and supporter Medvedev, appears sad and powerless in the face of the events outlined…


Blogs and Notes
Vojtěch Varyš
Theatre news 16/2010

…I’m not a Putin supporter, but I’m skeptical of the Western European view of Russia (even when presented by an authentic Russian like Anna Politkovskaya). The liberal democracy of the Western type, including the concept of human rights and the unquestionable value of human life, is not something that has to apply everywhere in the world, and we all know that Russia has always been somewhat different from the perspective of “civilized Europe.” It makes sense to explore where and why, but there’s no point in being shocked by it. In my opinion, it’s not worth wondering about it.

Certainly, political theater is meant to be biased, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t have to be demagogic. It can work with unexpected information (nothing presented in the book and the performance had not been mentioned before, for example, in the regular news of Czech Television). It could think about why things are the way they are, instead of the pathetic yelling at the helm, claiming that pigs are steering, wake up! After I ascended to the Supreme Court with Spitfires’ Trials to the very peaks of theatrical art, I was forced to descend to the bottom of it with Depressive Children, only for Líšeň to lead me into the very stinking underworld of the theater.


A Slap to Salami Emigration
Nasťa Astašina
Theater News 18/2010

At the festival …next wave…, I saw the project Putin Skis by the Brno theater Líšeň. It is a political performance. Political theater was made by Bertolt Brecht and many others. Now, however, it is a rare phenomenon in the theater not only in the Czech Republic but throughout Europe.

Content: the tragedy of Beslan, terrorists in the Dubrovka Theater, murdered Russian journalists, Chechnya, and much more. Everything I happily escaped from. Yes, it’s good to save yourself, leave, and not reminisce too much. Certainly, to empathize, occasionally be there, and frankly, rejoice that everything is far away. That it doesn’t concern me too much anymore. There are, of course, problems: “business,” foreign police, apartment hunting. The life of an emigrant is not easy. Therefore, the civic attitude, courage, and engagement of Czech actors and director Pavla Dombrovská in the Russian theme and current Russian issues evoke not only enthusiasm and astonishment but also shame personally for me. They are Czechs, and it disturbs them! They do not regret effort or money, and they do something. In fact, they are more concerned than I am, still a citizen of Russia. One of us was right when he expressed that we are “salami emigration.” We came for economic prosperity and a quieter life. We came to enjoy, not to create. Too bad? Certainly. But this performance raised these questions in me. Not the one who attacked us with the mentioned definition. Although he is right in his own way… In the middle of the open stage stood a huge accountant’s table with drawers. From them, the actors of the Líšeň Theater pulled out their puppets and props for their play. I said to myself: I really wouldn’t want to be one of the puppets on this bureaucratic table. Because that would mean one thing: my personal freedom is just my illusion, which I comfort myself with in my Prague concerns about my daily bread and attempts to look down on events in Russia. Nasťa Astašina (former actress of the Dřevo theater, has been living in Prague since the early 90s)

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