VVitches oV KyiV

The first film we made in Ukraine, titled Ukrainistan Artist War, Premiered in Salem Film Fest Massachusetts. Upon arrival George and I found we both had dreadful jetlag but were armed with super melatonin tablets, we were sleeping deeply and crazy long hours on the first few days and I started having the most extraordinary dreams . . .

Our apartment, provided by the Peabody Essex Museum, where the film was screening, is right around the corner from the infamous Old Burying Point Cemetery, also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, which is among the oldest in the United States, opened in 1637. Those accused and convicted of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 were tortured and ridiculed, with most being executed by hanging, their corpses were dumped around the old Cemetery in unmarked graves. There are also more than 50 slaves buried at the cemetery, as well. It was common to decline a headstone for a slave in those times. Laws that made such things as visions, dreams, and even the testimony of spirits permissible evidence. . . were used to prove the Witches guilt.

A new idea continued on from my earlier performance at the Victory exhibition in June 2022, with Ave Libertateveamour, George and the other Ukraine Artists at Irpen Central House of Culture, titled Armies of the Fallen. A homage to all those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom, an invocation and defiance. This performance also became a call to those spirits of Salem to come with me, join me in Kyiv. I had brought with me two lace dresses to wear.

The first night the dream voices came to me saying things like “the only way to catch us is with lace, you must roll out Lace down the main street of Salem, we are waiting for you in the grave yard”. Naturally that woke me in a cold sweat, I got up and looked out the bedroom window out onto the empty Salem Street, shadows signalling among flickering lights in the wind, gusting along. When I finally fell back to sleep again, I dreamed I did a performance wrapped in metres of lace, cocooned, and emerging from the lace at one end like a cicada in one of George’s drawings of human insect like creatures.  I dreamed I had golden, talon like, fingernails helping me to escape the lace as I clawed and crawled along where the path met the buildings in the main street of town, abject, monstrous, aberrant, mnemonic.

The voices babbled a strange type of poem in sotto voce, their instructions that I semi remembered, again waking in the dark, and interpreted thus.

I saw golden needles woven in hair,

“human hair of women can also contain the soul and float,

drift, fly, caught in the throat or eye,

we carry far, far, coiled in a breeze or the wing of a bird,

in tree’s we jump from forest to forest,

crows will carry us across town after town and drop us down

upon the crooked crown of evil heads we fall like lead

and do our work, perform our deed . . .”


“. . . the souls in the lace and strands of hair unfurl in the air

catch currents upwards across the hills, mountains, forests,

get caught in the fur, claw and paw of wolves and bears,

down the throats of small animals  hunting, migrating, foraging, climbing, sipping the waters,

falls into the rivers, drifts, swallowed by the swan now roasting on the pyre, 

the food of the Black Sea,

into the bellies of fish in the Dnipro, 

and onto the table of the one who must be destroyed

and then destroy all who help him.”


Human hair appeared in the dreams, hair massed into messy enlaced, matted nets . . . like a poison an infinitesimal weapon.

The voices said I must collect strands of women’s hair who give it freely and take those hairs with me also to release in Kyiv.

The morning before we left for New York I went out to a shop in Salem and purchased twenty meters of white lace and twenty meters of black lace and went on a Monday morning to the Charter street graveyard and unfurled each length of lace and dragged them across the grounds and graves where the unjustly hung bodies of witches were buried.  Strange phenomena happened to the lace, as George filmed, the material rippled smoothly across the ground as I strode, dragging the lengths behind me, round the headstones and across the grave beds. I collected leaves and twigs ensnared in the net of the lace, I gathered each swathe up and rolled them, placed them in a bag and carried them in my luggage to New York.

At a gathering on an evening at the Brooklyn Rail of artists and critics I told my story of the development of my new performance. There were many strong women at the gathering but it occurred to me that these must be the women to donate a few strands of their hair, they all did so, happily snipping small pieces from the back of their heads. This action seemed to make sense to all of us. This group were close with the amazing Performance Artist Carolee Schneemann who I believe would approve.

I still had no knowledge of what I would actually do with the lace and hair. I had faith that when I got back to Kyiv that I would psychically discover what to do.

Kyivan Rus was once the capital of a huge pagan empire that encompassed all of Russia as well as Ukraine. Volodymyr the Great was the staunchest Pagan ruler in all pre–Christian Europe until his conversion to Christianity in his later years mainly for political reasons.

We arrived back at our Mikhailivskyi Lane Studio in Kyiv, and I started to research the Pagan history of the area. My research was explosive as it turned out that just as it is believed that Vampires originated from Transylvania, Romania, just over the neighbouring Carpathian Mountains to the boarders of Ukraine it is believed in the region that the notion of the Witch originated in Kyiv.

I also discovered that there were several Witches Gathering mountains and hills all around Kyiv, the two most famous in folk lore and history are Lysa Hora and Zamkhova Hora.

I could barely contain myself with excitement that this history was still alive and that gatherings still occurred on these mountains.

I went out alone first to find Lysa Hora, I went in a “Bolt” which is equivalent to Uber, with a fatherly Ukrainian who didn’t speak a word of English to Lysa Hora! Bare Mountain, believed to be the very place Mussorgsky based his musical Tone Poem, Night on Bare Mountain! This mountain is not huge and more like a hill but is also a place where many political prisoners were executed, over 200 people, a turgid atmosphere I was anticipating indeed. We went passed glorious onion spired gold topped buildings and climbed and climbed through winding roads of lush budding forests, going past a giant monolith of a woman with sword and shield and a strange building that had an eye in a triangle mosaic above its ornate doors with women’s heads floating around the eye. Suddenly we were at a check point with armed Ukraine Soldiers who pulled us over, I realised I had forgotten my passport, I had a digital copy and a digital Media card however suddenly we were not allowed to continue as I was told “because of the current situation.” That was rather disappointing.

My driver spoke no English, google translate had him turning around, I couldn’t re book him for some reason in the app but I found my message from Ave that there was a better “Hill” where Gogol actually based one of his stories, I was soon to discover the legendary Zamkhova Gora, right back in the centre of the old town, in the middle of Kyiv!

Ave was messaging me saying “right on Andryvskyi’s decent!”

“Where Bulgakov’s old house is!” Thoughts of Margarita flying out her window on a broomstick immediately came to mind. The taxi driver drove around in circles as we jiggled and joggled over the old cobble stone roads, in the end he gave up, winding upwards abruptly he stopped, he seemed frustrated and unhelpful, so I gave him some cash and got out.

This is where I became lost as the Ukraine alphabet is unrecognisable in google to me and I couldn’t get my bearings. The place Zamkhova Hora didn’t exist on my phone map.

It was afternoon and I started asking strangers for directions, the bomb sirens started wailing and most waived their hands or didn’t speak English as they scurried off.

A young blond-haired youth, dressed all in black suddenly appeared on the path, “do you speak English I asked?” “Hmmm yes a bit” he replied. He looked terribly young but intelligent and told me he was 19, I suspect he may have been closer to 17. What is your name?,” “Ivan,” he replied, “but you can call me Vanya.” His blond hair was shaved at the sides of his reasonably handsome wide face. His skin still had a baby fat plumpness to it, deep European white with thin pink, red lips. “I’m looking for Zamkhova Hora, do you know it? My map is not showing it.” “I think I do know where it is, I can show you if you if you like,” he studied his iPhone map. “That would be great thank you” I happily responded.” He evaded my direct gaze with his very pale blue eyes and looked down to his phone map when he spoke, only flashing his eyes up quickly but turning away while we chatted. He was dressed reasonably in Kyiv chic, neo goth, all black. Leather shoes and long heavy woollen coat and black trousers, wide golden clamp like rings grasped the top of his ears. He looked like he barley shaved. The maps were not working on either phone, so I invited him to accompany me if he wished, “ok” he very easily complied, as surprised as I was with this instant acquiescence, I was glad as I was determined to find this place and I was heading into the unknown with no map. The whole time I was thinking he was incredibly “suggestable” to follow or guide me with very little persuasion, it was as if I had known him as an old friend. We were both not aware still, of where we were going but his map at least was showing a rather strange path to Zamkhova Gora whereas on mine, he searched and remarked that the place didn’t exist. I started to amuse myself with thoughts that this was some kind of test and that the Witches Hill sensed I was here, and that Vanya was their emissary like in Bulgakov’s the Master and Margarita, perhaps he might suddenly turn into “Koroviev” the trickster or a giant black cat.

We headed ever upwards towards a path where a huge stack of endless stairs rose in front of us, Vanya was quiet unless directly questioned which I kept doing, he told me he was a pianist, he was quite affable when given a reason to speak and seemed almost as if he expected to meet a foreigner in such a place looking to go up the mountain of the Witches. I sensed we were in the right area. As we started to climb the wooden stairs, we found ourselves on a platform where there sat a woman rather dishevelled and mad looking at first but wearing thongs? How very odd to see a woman wearing such an Aussie classic here in freezing Kyiv!? Her clothing was mismatched, and her hair dishevelled and greasy black, she had no concern for her appearance and seemed annoyed at our presence, her stern mouth curled into an articulation of distaste.

She sat alone in some kind of reverie with books on one side of her and pens and twigs placed on the other. I smiled and her response was  stoney faced, Vanya asked her in Ukrainian if we were on the right path, she stared fiercely and mutely, saying nothing, her eyes boring into me, unblinkingly  tight lipped and ignoring Vanya completely until he took her photograph which was the only time I saw her turn on him with her daggers stare, we backed off and kept ascending, too disturbed to laugh although we wanted to. The St Andrews church rose like a golden domed faerie castle, it was on the opposite hill.

Up we went, I started to feel this was the correct place for me to bring the lace from Salem and the hair from New York. Yet we were still lost on a clockwise circumambulation of the entire hill, google maps in “walk” mode is always a shambles for some reason! We walked for miles, and I started to feel like it was a waking dream as somehow, we were walking somewhere familiar! In fact, this would be the third time I walked past this particular park in Podil this week as it is only blocks away from Ave and only streets away from where we live? In the park were incredible statues of anthropomorphic birds, a Crow in top hat and monocle, a Dodo with a walking cane . . . surreal, as we were suddenly back in the city yet going to the hill? I still trusted Vanya however, as the rain fell and he opened his umbrella and gallantly held it over my head, sharing it with me, we walked and walked until suddenly again we approached greenery, this time I felt we were totally lost somewhere grungy. Graffitied path walls and storage garages, druggy looking lonely walkers with bowed heads, like somewhere where bodies are dumped, dirt footpaths started to replace anything man made, these paths were foot trodden packed mud and warn into the ground over decades, Centuries like a packed mud floor in a pauper’s house. The hairs raised on every inch of my body; I knew we were here on ancient sacred ground.

Suddenly I found myself on like a raised platform a “bald or barren Hill” literally, a “park land” now, however as it has been the same since prehistoric times. We had simply somehow taken the wrong set of stairs. We were finally atop Zamkhova Hora at last!

I found myself walking a narrow dirt path without fencing and 100meter drops on either side. The winding footpath rose and fell among budding blossom trees and scattered tulip and daffodil bulbs, crows squabbled and cawed – this was definitely a living fairy tale! This narrow dirt path leading out towards a natural type of hilltop stage, the sets of the new Starwars, “bad guys lair,” with a narrow path leading to a raised platform, immediately came to mind. A place where the magical battles between good and evil are fought out, the vanquished falling to their death.

I found a seven-pointed star structure raised and another concentrically circular raised platform with flowers and weeds growing through the layers. Continuing to walk down another path a little platform again right at the cliff that looks out above the beautiful little town. A central stage platform straight from Walt Disney’s animated lair in Fantasia!

I bid farewell with thanks to young Vanya and slipped some Ukrainian bank notes into his hand, he suddenly leaned in to kiss me, I recoiled and waved him off goodbye, yet he was hard to shake off and walked with me back down to the highway, at last I jumped into a taxi and waved him farewell once and for all from the window.

I found some books translated into English on the Witches of Kyiv and discovered many spells and knowledge of prehistoric Kyivan women’s practices were well known. The “Hills” or “Bare Mountains,” were where the women of the town collected their herbs and exchanged knowledge of nature and all things, “women’s business.” Sometimes they were naked as the ancient people believed walking nude in nature was healthful and brought them closer to communion with the mysteries of nature. It was believed that on certain nights women would walk around their fields naked in order to bring their fertility to their harvest. There were many such practices, and many are still performed today although merged with Christian beliefs.

I decided to take my lace performance as a type of healing to Irpen Bridge of Death and to the neighbouring apartments around the Central House of Art as well as to the hilltop of Zamkhova Hora.

When we met Olga who is the Piano Teacher interviewed in our film she seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown from all the horror she had seen, her neighbour whose head had been severed in two in front of her as she hid from the marauding Russians, on a blood lust, shrieking rampage, mowing down families as they ran and completely blowing her neighbours homes to smithereens , night after night for weeks until finally the Ukraine Army pushed them out. Olga didn’t know little Eva was just across the road, huddled deep in an underground cellar with her mother and little brother, while the endless boom, boom, of rockets and shells shook the ground all around them, completely destroying their house and their entire neighbourhood, as big as Marrickville, to rubble. Night-time was the only time people could come out of their hiding holes in search of food or to rescue the body of a loved one, they could hear the sound of the Russian soldiers raping and torturing in drunken, drugged rampages at night, looting and killing anyone they caught. Two neighbour boys told little Eva they would rescue her cat for her, they never returned, both were beheaded and lay in the street for weeks. Eva’s little cat returned of her own accord, she had hidden herself and her kittens in a drain. There is nothing more hellish to witness than traumatised children as well as dogs abandoned, roaming the devastated streets and searching wildly for their families who are either dead or had to run leaving them behind.

I walked with my lace swathes up into the bombed apartment blocks where the people once lived, the stairwells intact, I wanted to go up to the highest balcony and unfurl the lace from the graveyard in Salem. I walked up to a top apartment block with Sasha, he and I became so close, we made a pinkie promise to always be sister and brother, he insisted on going ahead of me but I found my way to a top apartment where you could see everything a normal apartment would contain, lounge, shelves, tables lamps etc excepted everything was burned like a petrified forest, the lounge totally burned to its metal springs in the cushions still seated on the metal structure a skeleton of  a lounge. I went out onto the balcony that I could see was made of cement and still solid and unfurled the lace that flew in the air and curled in mysterious shapes, the hair of the artists from New York flew up in the wind and I prayed the prophesy of the dream voices would find their mark. Burned items of everyone’s apartment’s charred and turned to rubble is everywhere with the ash, endless, endless, ash.

Going to the bridge at Irpen, the bridge repair workers applauded me in my outfit, I was touched and surprised, they were happy to see the damage and ashes recreated into art, the destruction of a giant modern bridge still with a nose-dived van front end wedged so horribly into the smashed cement and river months on, the wire infrastructure bursting out like guts from a giant body of the buckled and blasted road, all cascading from its full height all the way down into the rivulet that runs into the Dnipro. I pulled long strands of hair out of my mouth from my throat and watched them fall silently into the river as they drifted on their long journey, I imagined into the belly of a fish heading to the Black Sea.

The first place I unfurled the wound up black and white lace swathes, scattering the dried leaves and dust from the cemetery in Salem was Zamkhova Hora at dusk. A wind blows up to the hilltop from the town below. It felt like the Chagall painting where the lovers fly over the town, elevated over the houses and steeples. The wind was so strong it grabbed the lace and nearly blew me off the ground with it, catching the material and turning it into flame shapes all around me, the hair of the artists blew straight up further than the eye could see. I hoped and dreamed the spell was cast, the souls of the oppressed of Salem could mingle with the souls of those who had also sacrificed their lives for freedom here in Ukraine.

The next month Russia bombed the Kakhovka Dam and Yevgeny Prigozhin launched his failed mutiny and marched into Rostov.

Putin raided his private residence containing his golden mallet that he liked to bash the brains out of his enemies with, along with his hideous wig collection.

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related