She is on Khreshchatyk Street, covered head to toe in gold paint, an attractive cowgirl, complete with hat and a little whip.
She strikes a pose and stands motionless for minutes at a time until a curious passerby stops to look. Then suddenly she winks, or waves, or beckons him to come, and then resumes her pose. Soon enough a crowd of curious passersby will form, and kids will run up to throw a hryvnia into the artist’s bin and take a picture.
The woman, Vlada Zadnebryannaya, is one of at least five living statues you can see on Khreshchatyk Street even on a weekday. The characters range from the female impersonation of Ukraine, to Caesar, to a cowboy. Each character has his or her own way to amuse the curious.
If men are in the audience, Zadnebryannaya says she might hit them with her whip or beckon to them. If children, she’ll shake their hands and soon enough they will want to take a picture. On average, a statue can make Hr 70 to 100 an hour, said Alexander Dymchenko, who says he has been in the business for 11 years, mostly in Crimea.
Although living statues are a common sight in Western Europe, they are believed to have appeared on Kyiv’s streets only about two years ago.
The number of living statues in Kyiv has more than doubled this year, said Dymchenko, who manages six living statues. He teaches them, prepares their costumes and tells them when to rest, among other things. Dymchenko said another 13 statue actors appeared in May this year.
Among Khreshchatyk’s living statues is a student who wants to raise money for a trip to Crimea, another one wants to pay for her education and another saving up for a laptop. And there is even one who wants to make it a full-time profession by going to mime school.
But whatever their reasons to perform, what unites the five living statues interviewed by the Kyiv Post is their love of performing for audiences.
“For me the most important thing isn’t to make money; it’s to make people smile,” Zadnebryannaya said.
It was only Zadnebryannaya’s fourth day working, but Dymchenko agreed, saying it’s an extraordinary feeling when people – particularly children and pensioners – understand his art.
Yaroslav Goncharenko, a 16-year-old who has been performing for about two months, has already decided he wants to be a professional performer. The next step for him is to enroll in mime school.
The art comes with challenges.
Marina Svyshova almost lost consciousness this week on her first day performing. Caught by her instructor before she hit the ground, she soon recovered. The reason she almost fainted, she explained, was that the hat she wore while performing was pressing too hard on her temples.
Not everyone is cut out for the job, Dymchenko said. “If a person doesn’t have stamina, they won’t be able to stand there,” he said.
Whatever the weather, she has to stand, Zadnebryannaya said, whether it’s raining and she’s shivering, or it’s hot and she’s close to fainting.
Still, Goncharenko says that his audience distracts him from fatigue. He can easily stand motionless for an hour, but his capacity to stand longer “depends on people’s smiles.”
But the audience isn’t always made up of the most savory characters. Asked what his work has taught him about people, Dymchenko said he learned that Ukrainians are uneducated and boorish.
“Some drunken lout points his finger and shouts ‘Haa, look, it moved, haa!’ Guys, we’re living in the 21st-century,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t know what art is.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Fedor Zarkhin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org