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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Ukraine's knights and damsels relive battle
Over 700 people took part in the re-enactment of the Siege of Orleans
The French fortress of Orleans is standing firm in the face of an English onslaught. But the defenders are on their last legs and desperately need a hero.

Fires in the English camp are burning all night, as foreign mercenaries mingle with monks and noble damsels in the queue for freshly baked pancakes, one gold coin a piece.

The Hundred Years War is raging on - not far from the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Ukrainian television showed some of over 700 weekend warriors from Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Romania taking part earlier this month in a week-long re-enactment of a medieval battle between England and France.

Timespan: A series of wars between England and France in 1337-1453
Causes: Trade and territory disputes; English kings' claim to French throne
Course: The French lost much of the country before a turnaround in 1429, partly triggered by young visionary Joan of Arc
Results: France emerged as a single nation; England lost most of its continental territories and started relying more on naval power

Ukraine itself has had its fair share of battles in its long history. But the epic Hundred Years War appears to hold particular sway over people's imagination even on the other side of the continent.

"It took us all two days to build the fortress," chain mail-clad Anton Tetzhenov, known here as Jean Dunois, Count of Orleans, told Ukrainian TV.

"We didn't sleep at night, putting up the fortifications and digging the moat. I know the guys would fight for Orleans to the last."

It is not just hack-and-slash that attracts the participants, the organisers say. A lot of historical research went into the six-month preparation of the campaign.

Each would-be knight, priest or noble damsel had to pass a history test and demonstrate a detailed knowledge of their hero's biography.

Most girls want to play princesses or damsels in distress
Olena Yasynska, "Italian mercenary"

The campaign starts in true historical settings, but whether the English will seize Orleans or be banished from the regions of France they ruled in the 13th Century depends on each team's skills.

Weapons and armour were recreated with meticulous attention to detail, mostly by the participants themselves. A decent set of equipment costs between $70 and $100, an average monthly wage in Ukraine.

But good armour is essential for a swordsman if he wants to survive his very first fight, says Stanislav Bulatnikov, who had the sense to become Scottish bowman Warwick Stewart instead.

Olena Yasynska, who became Italian mercenary Lia Conori for the week, says many girls like her are taking part in the war game.

"But most of them want to be princesses or damsels in distress. Few become lady-warriors like me. But we do our job, I think."

Safety first

The organisers of the campaign, which evolved from the Soviet war game Zarnitsa, say they want it to be recognised as a proper sport some day.

They say that despite the violent plot, the game is actually quite safe, provided that the equipment is kept in good working order.

And if sanitary conditions are not up to scratch, the game masters can declare a whole medieval town in the state of an epidemic.

That would mean game over for its hapless residents. And the loss of Orleans to the English.

Historic battle re-enacted
14 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
Ancient tipple at re-enactment
07 Sep 02  |  Wales


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