A Greater Boston Musician Created a Relief Fund to Help in his Home Country of Ukraine
Music can be a refuge during difficult times. But in Ukraine, Russia's invasion sent many musicians fleeing without their instruments — without that refuge.
Here in Boston, one Ukrainian American is trying to help fellow musicians in his home country. Alexander Vavilov, a violist and co-founder of the Sheffield Chamber Players, set up the Relief Fund for Ukrainian Musicians in collaboration with the King Baudouin Foundation United States, which provides direct financial assistance to the artists.
Vavilov joined GBH's Morning Edition to talk about what he's hearing from Ukrainian musicians, and to perform the traditional Ukrainian song "Oy u Luzi Chervona Kalyna," or "Red Viburnum in the Meadow."
"It has been made very popular since the beginning of the war, perhaps largely due to Andriy Khlyvnyuk singing it in the square in Kiev," he said.
The song has become a symbol of support both in Ukraine and outside of the war-torn region. It was even picked up by Pink Floyd.
"When I am playing the song, I'm mostly thinking about the suffering of people in that country," Vavilov said. "I am, of course, thinking about how to express this with my instrument."
He grew up in Kiev, Ukraine, and came to the United States at the age of 19, leaving his entire family and group of friends. After Russia's invasion, he said everyone he called back home was in some state of flight.
"One of my best friends literally told me how a ballistic rocket flew over his house. And they just threw things in the car and went," he said. "That was like a snap of the fingers decision. He didn't have a chance to stop by the philharmonic to get his violin. ... Nobody knew when they're going to play again. And some people made it to Poland with just their violin."
Vavilov's outreach began with musicians in Kiev, where he studied and had the most connections. As the effort continued, he and others involved in the relief fund have prioritized people in areas most affected by the violence.
Vavilov shared some of the testimonials he has collected from people his fund has helped. Below are sections of their stories, translated by Vavilov.
"Everything suddenly lost its meaning. In one moment, the ground has been swept from under my feet," wrote Ulyana, from Mariupol. "A place, where my soul could find peace, no longer exists on this earth. I am now a wanderer. A nomad. Needed by no one. And sometimes I just want to disappear. You might sympathize with me, but you will never understand me. You will try to give advice, but it will be useless, as you have never been in my skin — in our Ukrainian skin. Our home is being torn to pieces, so ruthlessly and unfairly. ... Murdering one person after another, this terrible dream now lasts for over a month. It destroys everything in its path. And there is only one thought which pulsates in my head: I will never be able to return to my home."
"All people, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, are scattered around the world," wrote Viktoria. "Everyone is independently looking for resources and work opportunities. I don't know English or any other languages, therefore looking for work abroad is a big challenge, first and foremost due to the language barrier. I will try to find work in the countries where people understand Russian: Lithuania, Latvia, maybe Poland, though this too is very challenging."
"It would be so lovely to tell you that during peacetime the grant I received would have been spent on violin accessories, music from prominent publishers, tickets to first class performances — true joys for musicians," wrote Ksenia. "However, war entered its own adjustments. Right now your assistance helps me solve the questions of food supplies, survival and safety."
"The support from fellow musicians gave me hope that art is needed in the world even during war," wrote Katerina. "I felt that people around us in Europe are not indifferent to what will happen to Ukrainian culture and its people."
"Since we have two small kids and were running out on food supplies, we decided to leave the city at our own risk. We gathered our belongings as fast as we could and when we were loading into the car, one of the shells landed 10 meters away. God saved us," wrote Dmitri. "We are waiting for the end of the war, hoping that our Philharmonie will start working again as before."
"We started crying when our train departed Kharkiv. I traveled with my 4 year old granddaughter Miroslava (a name about Peace!) and the little girl started singing 'Chornobryvtsi,'" wrote Emma. "I am very worried about how life will proceed. ... I revere my calling, teaching viola, chamber ensemble and quartet. Everything has been taken from us."