Highlights

  • Ukrainians turn to humour to deal with war
  • No jokes about the Ukrainian dead or the grim battles
  • Comedians call humour the 'cheapest psychotherapy'

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As Russia's offensive continues, Ukrainians use laughter as coping mechanism

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his troops are favourite targets of dark Ukrainian wartime humour

The war in Ukraine isn't remotely funny, but Ukrainians are learning to laugh about the awfulness of it all.

Not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to - to stay sane amid the brutality that's killed tens of thousands of people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his troops are favourite targets of dark Ukrainian wartime humour.

But there are boundaries: Ukrainian dead aren't laughed about and the grimmest battles, among them the siege of Mariupol and the port city's Azovstal steelworks, are far too raw for jokes. The same is true of atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere.

Ukraine's most famous comedian is Volodymyr Zelenskyy, now the country's president, elected in 2019.

In the TV comedy series "Servant of the People," the former stand-up comic and actor played a lovable high school teacher who accidentally becomes president - before he later became president for real.

Also Watch| Meet this rapper-turned-soldier in war-torn Ukraine

But Zelenskyy hasn't had much cause for comedy since the February 24 invasion thrust him into the role of wartime leader. His daily video addresses to the nation are often grim and forceful.

But while he works to rally international support, and soldiers fight with tanks, artillery and Western-supplied armaments, Ukrainians away from the front are using jokes and humour as weapons - against war-time anxiety and moroseness, against Russia and to feel as one, laughing and crying together in their sorrow and anger.

Stand-up comedian Anton Tymoshenko said: "This is the only way to save your mental health in war, I suppose, because I don't have money for a psychotherapist."

"A lot of Ukrainians don't have money for psychotherapists and stand-up is a very cheap psychotherapy. You just, you like eight dollars or ten dollars - that's the price of the ticket - and you're laughing like an hour. That helps I suppose. So, yeah, it's totally, it's totally good to laugh at war," he added.

Tymoshenko and other comedians performed at the weekend in a basement comedy club in Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Audience member Yuliia Shytko said she felt in far higher spirits after chortling loudly with the rest of the crowd through the comedians' routines.

"Thanks to them we can actually gather together and, you know, experience and enjoy together as well," she said. "So it's really nice. And I bet it's really hard for them, of course, like to write down those jokes, you know. But it helps everyone."

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