DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Death and drama play out on the streets in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk almost daily.
Inside the city's opera house, the strains of Tchaikovsky's tragic masterpiece "Eugene Onegin" briefly drowned out the boom of artillery fire Saturday.
For the few dozen spectators that turn up, the opera's weekly performances serve as a respite from the war raging outside between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
The players with the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theater are still in disbelief at what is happening around them.
Artyom Yaroshevich, who played the title role on Saturday, said keeping the rebel-held city's theater going has been tough without outside help.
"But you know, without work and singing, it would be the end," he said.
The theater once regularly teemed with spectators and put on several performances throughout the week.
These days, the stalls are largely vacant. The performances are staged only at weekends, and in the early afternoon, well before darkness descends and the streets grow even emptier.
Audience member Marina Bragina said visits to the opera house help citizens withstand the trials of war.
"This is going to go on for a long time and we have to lift our spirits and cheer ourselves up," Bragina said. "Enjoy culture, meet other people and not get desperate. It all helps."