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An Orchestra Helps Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by Warfare

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WARSAW — After years of struggling to make a dwelling as musicians in Ukraine, Yevgen Dovbysh and Anna Vikhrova felt they’d lastly constructed a secure life. They had been husband-and-wife artists within the Odessa Philharmonic — he performs the cello, she the violin — sharing a love for Bach partitas and the music from “Star Wars.” They lived in an residence on the banks of the Black Sea with their 8-year-old daughter, Daryna.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Vikhrova fled for the Czech Republic along with her daughter and mom, bringing a couple of hundred {dollars} in financial savings, some garments and her violin. Dovbysh, 39, who was not allowed to go away as a result of he’s of army age, stayed behind and assisted in efforts to defend town, gathering sand from seashores to bolster obstacles and shield monuments and taking part in Ukrainian music on videos honoring the nation’s troopers.

“We spent on daily basis collectively,” Vikhrova, 38, mentioned. “We did all the things collectively. And instantly our lovely life was taken away.”

Dovbysh was granted particular permission to go away the nation final month to hitch the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, a brand new ensemble of 74 musicians that was gathering in Warsaw, the primary cease on a world tour aimed toward selling Ukrainian tradition and denouncing Russia’s invasion. Carrying his cello, and carrying a small golden cross round his neck, he boarded a bus for Poland, wanting ahead to taking part in for the trigger, and likewise to being reunited with one other member of the fledgling ensemble: his spouse.

“I really like my nation a lot,” he mentioned because the bus handed ponds, church buildings and raspberry fields in Hrebenne, a Polish village close to the border with Ukraine. “I don’t have a gun, however I’ve my cello.”

When his bus arrived in Warsaw, he rushed to satisfy Vikhrova. He knocked on the door of her resort room, waited nervously, after which embraced her when she opened it. She teased him about his determination to put on shorts for the 768-mile journey, regardless of the cool climate, a legacy of his upbringing in balmy Odessa. She gave him a figurine of a “Star Wars” creature, Child Yoda, a belated birthday current.

“I’m so comfortable,” he mentioned. “Lastly, we’re virtually like a household once more.”

The following morning, they took their chairs within the new Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, led by the Canadian Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, to arrange for an 12-city tour to rally help for Ukraine. Starting right here in Warsaw, the tour has continued in London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin and different cities, and can journey to america this week to play at Lincoln Heart on Aug. 18 and 19 and on the Kennedy Heart in Washington on Aug. 20.

The tour has been organized with the help of the Ukrainian authorities. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, mentioned in a latest assertion celebrating the founding of the orchestra that “inventive resistance” to Russia was paramount. The orchestra additionally has the backing of highly effective figures within the music trade. Wilson’s husband, Peter Gelb, who runs the Metropolitan Opera in New York, has performed a essential position, serving to line up engagements and benefactors, and the Met has helped organize the tour. Waldemar Dabrowski, the director of the Wielki Theater, Warsaw’s opera home, supplied rehearsal house and helped safe monetary help from the Polish authorities.


CULTURE, DISPLACED A sequence exploring the lives and work of artists pushed removed from their homelands amid the rising international refugee disaster.


On the first rehearsal, musicians filed into the Wielki Theater carrying blue and yellow luggage; instrument instances coated in peace indicators and hearts; and tattered volumes of Ukrainian poems and hymns.

Because the musicians started to heat up at rehearsal, Wilson took her place on the podium, locked eyes with the gamers, and spoke about the necessity to stand as much as Moscow.

“For Ukraine!” she mentioned, throwing her fist into the air. Then the orchestra started taking part in Dvorak.

The musicians had arrived largely as strangers to 1 one other. However slowly they grew nearer, sharing tales of neighborhoods pounded by bombs, whereas the refugees amongst them recounted their lengthy, tense journeys throughout crowded borders this winter.

Among the many violins was Iryna Solovei, a member of the orchestra on the Kharkiv State Educational Opera and Ballet Theater, who fled for Warsaw firstly of the invasion alongside along with her 14-year-old daughter. Since March, they’ve been among the many greater than 30 Ukrainian refugees dwelling contained in the Wielki Theater, in places of work that had been transformed to dormitories.

In March, Solovei, watched from a distance as her residence in Kharkiv was destroyed by Russian missiles. She shared photographs of her charred lounge along with her fellow gamers, telling them how a lot she missed Ukraine and nervous about her husband, who nonetheless performs with the Kharkiv ensemble.

“Everybody has been harm,” she mentioned. “Some individuals have been harm bodily. Some individuals have misplaced their jobs. Some individuals have misplaced their properties.”

She reminisced about her days as an orchestra musician in Ukraine, and the deep connections she felt with audiences there. To deal with the trauma of warfare, she takes walks in a park in Warsaw, the place a Ukrainian guitarist performs folks songs at sundown.

“The warfare is sort of a horrific dream,” she added. “We will overlook about it for a second, however we are able to by no means escape it.”

In the back of the orchestra, within the percussion part, stood Yevhen Ulianov, a 33-year-old member of the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.

His daughter was born on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion. He advised his fellow gamers how he and his spouse, a singer, had gone to the hospital in Kyiv a couple of hours earlier than the warfare began. As she went into labor, air-raid sirens sounded repeatedly, and at one level they had been rushed from the maternity ward to the basement of the hospital.

“I couldn’t perceive what was taking place,” he mentioned. “I may solely suppose, ‘How will we get out of right here alive?’”

Ulianov didn’t play for 2 months after the invasion, as concert events in Kyiv had been canceled and theaters elsewhere had been broken. The orchestra lowered his wage by a 3rd in April, and he relied on financial savings to pay his payments. Inside his residence close to the middle of town, he practiced on a vibraphone, taking shelter in a hall when air-raid sirens sounded.

“We didn’t know what to do — ought to we keep or ought to we go away?” he mentioned. “What if the Russian military got here to Kyiv? Would we ever be capable of play once more?”

Earlier than the orchestra’s first live performance, late final month in Warsaw, Vikhrova and Dovbysh had been anxious.

That they had spent greater than per week rehearsing this system, which included items by Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin and Valentin Silvestrov, Ukraine’s most well-known dwelling composer. However they had been not sure how the viewers may react. They usually had been grappling with their fears concerning the warfare.

Vikhrova had been making an attempt to construct a brand new life within the Czech Republic with their daughter, becoming a member of a neighborhood orchestra. However she nervous about her husband’s security “each second, each minute, each hour,” she mentioned. She slept close to her cellphone in order that she can be woken up by warnings about air raids in Odessa. She grew anxious after one assault there earlier than Easter, when her husband noticed Russian missiles within the sky however had no time to take shelter. To take her thoughts off the warfare, she performed Bach and conventional Ukrainian songs.

Holding her husband’s hand backstage, Vikhrova mentioned she longed for the day after they may return to Ukraine with their daughter, who was staying along with her mom within the Czech Republic throughout the tour.

“I really feel like I’m main a double life,” she mentioned. “Half of me is in Ukraine, and half of me is outdoors.”

Dovbysh remembered the concern in his daughter’s eyes when she and her mom left Odessa in February. He recalled taking time to clarify the warfare and telling her she can be secure. He promised they’d see one another once more quickly.

When the tour ends this week and his army exemption expires, he’s scheduled to return to Odessa. It’s unclear when he’ll be capable of see his household once more.

“Day-after-day,” he mentioned, “I dream of the second once we can see one another once more.”

Because the warfare drags on, the musicians have at instances struggled to maintain their focus. They spend a lot of their free time checking their telephones for information of Russian assaults, sending warnings to kinfolk.

Marko Komonko, 46, the orchestra’s concertmaster, mentioned it was agonizing to observe the warfare from a distance, likening the expertise to a dad or mum caring for an sick youngster. He fled Ukraine in March for Sweden, the place he now performs within the orchestra on the Royal Opera Home in Stockholm.

“We dwell with a continuing sense of fear,” he mentioned.

For greater than two months after the invasion, he mentioned, he felt nothing when he performed his violin. Then, in early Could, he started to really feel a mixture of disappointment and hope when he carried out a Ukrainian folks melody at a live performance in Stockholm.

For some, taking part in within the orchestra has strengthened a way of Ukrainian identification. Alisa Kuznetsova, 30, was in Russia when the warfare started; since 2019, she had labored as a violinist within the Mariinsky Orchestra. In late March, she resigned from the orchestra in protest and moved to Tallinn, Estonia, the place she started taking part in within the Estonian Nationwide Symphony Orchestra.

When she joined the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, she initially felt responsible, she mentioned, nervous that the opposite gamers would see her as a traitor due to her work in Russia. However she mentioned her colleagues had reassured her that she was welcome.

“For my soul, for my coronary heart,” she mentioned, “this has been actually essential.”

In European cultural capitals, the orchestra has been greeted with standing ovations and optimistic opinions from critics.

“A stirring present of Ukrainian defiance,” a evaluation in The Day by day Telegraph mentioned of the orchestra’s efficiency on the Proms, the BBC’s classical music competition. The Guardian wrote of “tears and roars of delight” for the brand new ensemble.

However the musicians say the measure of success won’t be opinions, however their means to shine a light-weight on Ukraine and showcase a cultural identification that Russia has tried to erase.

Nazarii Stets, 31, a double bass participant from Kyiv, has been redoubling his efforts to construct a digital library of scores by Ukrainian composers, so their music could be extensively downloaded and carried out. He performs within the Kyiv Kamerata, a nationwide ensemble dedicated to up to date Ukrainian music.

“If we aren’t preventing for tradition,” he mentioned, “then what’s the level of preventing?”

Wilson, who got here up with the concept for the orchestra in March and plans to revive it subsequent summer time, mentioned she made some extent of that includes Silvestrov’s symphony as a manner of selling Ukrainian tradition. Close to the top of the piece, the composer wrote a sequence of respiration sounds for the brass, an impact meant to imitate the final breaths of his spouse.

Wilson, who devoted the piece to Ukrainians killed within the warfare, mentioned she instructed the orchestra to consider the sounds not as demise, however as life.

“It’s the breath of life, to point out that their spirits go on,” she mentioned in an interview.

Vikhrova mentioned the tour had introduced her nearer to her husband and her fellow gamers. She cries after every efficiency of the Silvestrov symphony, and when the orchestra performs an association of the Ukrainian nationwide anthem as an encore.

“This has linked our hearts,” she mentioned. “We really feel a part of one thing greater than ourselves.”

Anna Tsybko contributed reporting.


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