For Ukrainian-born Igor Golyak, Russia’s act of war toward Ukraine is personal. Golyak is the artistic director of Arlekin Players Theatre in Needham, which he founded in 2009. In many ways, Arlekin Players is a living laboratory of peace and a model of co-existence. Founding members and actors with the theater are immigrants from countries in the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Many of them, like Golyak, have family in Ukraine and Russia they are trying to extricate from what Golyak describes as “hell on earth.”

“I was born in Kyiv,” Golyak told JewishBoston last week. “We immigrated in 1989 before the Soviet Union fell. All Jewish refugees came to the United States through Italy or Austria, and we arrived in Boston in 1990. I went to high school in Boston and studied theater in Moscow. After I received my master’s degree, I came back to the area and started Arlekin Players Theatre in Needham.”

In addition to raising funds for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Golyak is generating awareness and garnering support for artists in Ukraine. The result is “Artists for Ukraine,” a campaign Golyak launched when the war started two weeks ago. Golyak quickly hatched the idea for the campaign after he received images of a black box theater—a simple performance space, typically a square room with black walls and a flat floor—in Ukraine that had been converted into a bomb shelter. He was struck by the similarities between his theater in Needham and the one in Kyiv.

He immediately solicited messages of support for fellow Ukrainian artists to inspire them, spark awareness and show the world that he and his fellow artists were in solidarity with them. Golyak also recorded a message from Arlekin’s theater in Needham in which he said, in part, “This is where we gather and hope and dream together. This could be us. This is us. I’m sending a message from our theater to your theater. A message of hope. We are with you. We stand with you. We are against Putin’s war.”

A message from Igor Golyak as Arlekin Players Theatre launches #Artists4Ukraine, a campaign of hope to provide humanitarian aid to the brave people of Ukraine. FRIENDS, please share, tag, donate. ARTISTS, join us by making an artistic offering for the people of Ukraine by video, posting, tagging us, and sharing the donation link. Link:

Posted by Arlekin Players Theatre on Monday, February 28, 2022

In addition to Golyak and his fellow company members, actors including Mark Ruffalo and Jessica Hecht and the playwright Sarah Ruhl have recorded video messages of support. Hecht said that Golyak’s “heart is with his family and friends back home, but his hope is with you.” Rimma Gluzman, Arlekin’s board chair, said, “It is our right and responsibility to speak for the [Ukrainian people].”

In turn, actors in Ukraine have also recorded similar messages between bombings lauding Golyak’s initiative. A message posted on the Arlekin Players’ Facebook page and website asks “artists everywhere to join us with an artistic offering. Please address your performance or message directly to the people of Ukraine, offering support, prayers, healing and encouragement. Any artistic form of expression is welcome.” There are directions on how to post as well as a link to donate.

Mark Ruffalo joins #Artists4Ukraine with this message of support for the people of Ukraine as they fight for their freedom and independence. Please donate now to provide immediate and critical humanitarian support.DONATE HERE: #Artists4Ukraine #StandWithUkraine

Posted by Arlekin Players Theatre on Thursday, March 3, 2022

Additionally, Golyak noted that the Arlekin Players Theatre plans to participate in a worldwide initiative to stage plays by Ukrainian playwrights. “Some of these plays are being written during the war,” he said. “They’re short plays, and we’re looking into sponsoring short readings of them.”

Golyak said that some of his relatives were able to flee to Europe, but he still has family trapped in Kyiv. “Many of my relatives don’t have anyone in Europe,” he explained. “I can take them here but so far America hasn’t issued visas to Ukrainian refugees. It would be very helpful for the United States to stand and help these refugees so that the burden is not only on Europe.”

He added that the situation is reminiscent of what happened to the St. Louis, a German ship carrying 900 Jewish refugees that Cuban and American authorities turned away in 1939. The ship was forced to return to Germany, and consequently over 200 passengers were deported to concentration camps. Last December, Arlekin Players staged “Witness,” a striking virtual production based on the events of the St. Louis debacle.

“History is repeating itself,” Golyak said. “We are witnessing a massacre in Ukraine, and America should play a bigger role. We should cut off the use of Russian energy supplies like gas and oil. Of course, it will hit us financially, but we can’t just witness another tragedy.”