Watching the war in Ukraine was difficult for Eugenia Olesnicky and Haleh Abghari.
Olesnicky, an associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is a first-generation Ukrainian-American who has seen some of her relatives flee to Poland, while others remain in the attacked country.
And Abghari, a UCCS music teacher who grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, still has clear memories of taking refuge in the basement during air raids.
“I was well protected and didn’t suffer like people are suffering in Ukraine, but the brutal reality of war is very clear to me,” she said. “I feel responsible for responding to this egregious act of mass violence against an entire nation.”
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They and assistant professor of physics Dmytro Bozhko organized a benefit concert for Ukraine, featuring musicians from Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, Colorado Vocal Art Ensemble, Colorado College Chamber Chorus, Ormao Dance Company, Reflection Women’s Quintet, Siuzanna Iglidan and UCCS. Faculty.
All proceeds will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency; Razom, which provides medical aid to Ukraine; and the UCCS Displaced Scholars Support Fund. The concert is Saturday at the Ent Center for the Arts.
“In many ways, it’s been almost therapeutic for me,” Olesnicky said. “It was very difficult for me to deal with the invasion and the war. It weighs on me so much. It’s an opportunity for me to focus my energy and do something, to try to help in a meaningful way.
The evening will rely heavily on Ukrainian music and will feature a variety of performances by volunteer musicians, including Iglidan, a Ukrainian-American musician based in Denver who recently sang and played bandura alongside John Legend at the Grammys. The bandura, a stringed folk instrument recognized as the national instrument of Ukraine, is often referred to as the Ukrainian harp.
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CVAE will sing “Carol of the Bells”, originally a Ukrainian song that most people only know as a Christmas carol. The 41-person choir will sing it in its native Ukrainian language.
Sergei Vasiliev, Ukrainian clarinettist of the Philharmonic, will perform, as well as Reflection, a group of Ukrainian and Scandinavian women, who will sing in Ukrainian and English.
Abghari, who is Iranian, compares much of the country’s music to the Romantic period of Western classical music. She and Olesnicky, along with two other UCCS faculty members, will perform a Ukrainian lullaby. Olesnicky grew up singing and now sings for his daughter every night.
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“I always love the colors that language brings to music,” Abghari said. “I sing in many different languages. When you sing the same tune in a different language, it has a different color and quality.
Not only is the evening aimed at raising funds, but it is also a snub to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“An entire population is under attack, and part of the goal is erasure, to destroy their culture and erase them,” Abghari said. “He (Putin) wants it to be part of Russia. Humans are attacked, but also their history, their culture, their monuments, everything. Celebrating culture and music as it matters. It’s an act of defiance in a way.
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