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Olya Polyakova fundraises for Ukraine with US tour

Her draped gown colored in the image of Ukraine’s flag, artist Olya Polyakova is touring the United States to raise funds for her country’s war against Russia. At Massachusetts’ Regent Theatre on Tuesday, Polyakova had the crowd on its feet, with many of her fans-some drove hundreds of miles for the connection to home-waving flags, singing along and embracing her as she greeted them offstage. About an hour into soundcheck, one young woman, Renata Yasinskaya, ran onstage for a tight, tearful hug from her family friend, who she was seeing for the first time since the war began.

“I love her, and she for me is like (my) mother,” said the 18-year-old. “I missed her. I miss my family. I’m here alone.” It was a reaction to Polyakova that embodied the room’s emotion for much of the night, as the singer herself also grew tearful at points, concertgoers rallying behind her. Her tour is an effort to fundraise “for people whose life was destroyed because of war” and also serves as a reminder of the war’s longevity, she told AFP in English.

She pleaded with the global community “to not forget about the war in my country.” The artist is working with UNITED24 — an initiative from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to organize charitable donations for his country-to collect the funds and use them towards humanitarian and military aid. Polyakova’s own husband remains in Ukraine; the last time she saw him he was armed at a border crossing.

‘Means a lot’

Prior to the war, the opera-trained musician sang primarily in Russian, but these days she’s doing her best to perform in Ukrainian. “Okay, I am Russian speaker… I always can sing in Russian,” said Polyakova. “Nobody forced me to not speak Russian,” she said, explaining that Ukraine “was a free country.” “We could speak any language,” Polyakova said. But now, she continued, Russian is connected with the invasion and “it’s very painful.”

“I make a lot of songs in Ukrainian language and English… to not be connected with Russian, because now this is evil, and this is our enemies.” Prior to the show fans lined up outside, many wearing flower headpieces and vyshyvankas, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered outfit. “It means like a lot,” said Liza Markova, 21, who drove to the concert from Canada with her family. “Growing up, I just feel like I always loved Ukraine.” Markova said that while the current events are “tragic,” she’s grateful for the global focus on Ukraine. Now, she said “everybody kind of knows what Ukraine is, and loves it just as much as we do.” – AFP


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