Ukrainian youth choir defies war with messages of freedom

COPENHAGEN: From an excellent Kyiv sheltered from the bombs under the bright lights of European theater stages, the hymns of a Ukrainian youth choir in praise of freedom offer a kind of healing balm to its war-scarred members. The Shchedryk Ensemble, described as Kiev’s oldest professional children’s choir, were in the Danish capital this week for a performance as part of an international tour that also took them to New York’s famed Carnegie Hall.
It was meant to be part of a busy year to celebrate the choir’s 50th anniversary. But Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine changed all that, with members scattering within their homeland and abroad in search of safety. Some members say they have lost friends and family in the fighting.
“It is very difficult to bring the children together,” said Marianna Sablinaartistic director and conductor of the choir, whose mother founded the choir in 1971. Some of the members are “outside the borders of Ukraine, and only about a third of the forum currently lives in Kyiv”.
Earlier this year, the choir managed to come together and started rehearsing at the National Palace of Arts in Kyiv.
The vagaries of war often tormented rehearsals. When Kiev was bombed and suffered power outages, air raid sirens forced the choir to congregate in a dark bomb shelter, illuminating their scores with whatever light source they could find.
“When there are sirens, we go to the shelter and sing with our phones and flashlights,” said Anastasiia Rusina, a 15-year-old chorister, whose family fled to western Ukraine after the invasion.
“I think we kind of got used to it because it’s our job to do. We have a gig, so we just can’t skip rehearsals,” she said.
Audiences at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Copenhagen recently listened to the soaring voices of the choir, made up of mostly teenage girls wearing black and white dresses accented by red and black squares on their sleeves and colorful beads around their necks .
“I sincerely hope that the concert here will send a message of love and hope as well as sympathy and support to all Ukrainian families,” said Nataliya Popovych, co-founder of Ukrainian House Copenhagen, an organization of civil society who brought the group to Denmark. “Let’s hope that next year all Ukrainian families can celebrate Christmas properly,” she added.
At the heart of the performance was the song “song of the bells“, perhaps best known from the 1990 Christmas movie Home Alone”.
The song was originally arranged by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in the early 1900s. The choir’s name, “Shchedryk”, comes from the song’s Ukrainian title.
“We have to tell people that our culture is so important to our world,” said Polina Holtseva, another 15-year-old choir member whose family remained in Kyiv throughout the conflict.
“It’s our culture, it’s our songs, and it’s so amazing that we have the chance to bring this music to you,” she said.
Choir members Rusina and Holtseva said they had no concrete career plans. They noted that they don’t even know what they are going to do tomorrow. But amid the horrors of war, the Shchedryk Choir became their “safe haven”.
“We just don’t think about the war or our situation. We just sing, we are with our friends, our family,” Rusina said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GreenLeaf Tw2sl