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Music plays on in Kharkiv under Russia bombardment

Russian bombs fall daily on Kharkiv since the invasion of Ukraine, but time stood still briefly on Saturday as a group of Ukrainian musicians moved listeners with a classical concert. Three violinists, a cellist and a bass player delighted an audience of a few dozen people for half an hour in one of the largest subway stations in Ukraine’s second city, close to the Russian border. Underground and protected from rockets and missiles, the musicians, aged 20-35, played the national anthem and several tunes from popular Ukrainian folklore.

The enraptured listeners were displaced people, enjoying the concert taking place on a marble staircase. They have been living in the station since the invasion began on February 24, fleeing the war above and sleeping in old wagons. “When our heart is full, it helps us overcome difficult times,” said Sergiy Politutchy, director of Kharkiv Music Fest, one of the most prestigious music festivals in Ukraine. The concert was his idea, organized on the same day that the annual event would have begun.

Despite the sounds of war, “music doesn’t stop”, he said. “This mini concert is a symbol that light will overcome darkness, that the truth will triumph over lies… the organization was a bit complicated because of security, but we made it!” The musicians thrilled the audience with an extract from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 as well as Dvorak’s humoresques. They then played a tune by Myroslav Skoryk-a Ukrainian composer who died in 2020 — which is often used by President Volodymyr Zelensky in his videos and messages posted on social media.

‘Right track’

Protected by armed guards, Kharkiv governor Oleg Sinegubov and the city’s mayor Igor Terekhov also attended the recital. “A month ago, we couldn’t have imagined that our soldiers and our soldiers could, hand in hand, protect the city,” Terekhov said. “In times of war, we work all together for victory, this concert shows that we are on the right track,” he added. Videos of professional cellist, Denys Karachevtsev, have been shared on social media where he performs in front of buildings destroyed by bombs, magical moments between frightening periods of ferocious Russian bombing.

“It was just an idea, to be useful to my people, my country and my hometown. I love this city, its residents. Anything I can do to help, I will do it,” he told AFP. “People tell me my videos bring a little normality back to their lives. It’s important at this moment… We aren’t scared, we are strong, and everyone can help in their own way,” he added. Other Ukrainian musicians have also shared clips of hope on social media.

Violinist Vera Lytovchenko in her shelter in Kharkiv, pianist Irina Maniukina in her damaged home near Kyiv or other members of the opera in Odessa, in front of their rooms protected by sandbags. “Everyone came to my house for a single rehearsal,” beamed Tatiana Chukh, one of the violinists who performed at the subway concert. “In the first few days of the war, there was silence within me. Then I understood that we must continue to live, for our ideals, for our country, for our future,” she added. “Playing our instruments is what we know best, we will do this in all circumstances,” she said, adding with a big smile and misty eyes: “Maybe it was the best concert of my life.”-AFP

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