This celebration of Ukrainian Independence Day in the heart of the English Midlands had everything and, at the same time, something for everyone. The venue was the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Nottingham, Robin Hood territory itself. The center is headquartered in a compact, elegant Victorian-era listed building.
The night encompassed singing, dancing, poetry, folk tunes and Cossacks with swords. As the evening progressed, it was clear that the common factor between the acts was the vibe and positivity present.
There was joy, elation, sadness and heartbreak as Ukrainians and those loyal to the Ukrainian cause came together to mark Ukraine’s 31st Independence Day.
A bumper crowd turned up on a humid night. It was a mix of recently-arrived Ukrainians for whom everything seems new and the local diaspora. Not every AUGB branch in the UK was able to put on a concert on Independence Day itself.
Well, this was going to be something else. And audience participation would take it to a higher level.
After all, these are dark times and everyone needs to contribute in whatever way they can. Ukraine is still independent, but fighting desperately hard to keep it. Six months of Putin’s barbaric war and 31 years of Independence fell on the same day.
Because of the large crowd present in the hall, some people were able to watch the live stream of the concert in the lounge bar. Nottinghamshire has around 700 new arrivals from Ukraine according to official statistics, and the local Nottingham branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain knows of around 550 of them. The total number present was likely around 250, with some people even standing outside.
Proceedings began with a greeting from local AUGB Chairman Michael Holod to VIPs, local dignitaries and guests, followed by a prayer led by local Ukrainian Greek Catholic Priest David Senyk. Father Senyk took the time to thank all those people who had taken in displaced Ukrainians into their homes under a government-run scheme.
The concert’s beginning was just like the usual ending of such an event, with the Ukrainian national anthem. Except this time there was a twist. Cello soloist Myron Pavlov was first on stage, and played the national anthem. Thirty seconds later and some members of the crowd were humming, and as the humming got louder it quickly turned into song. Emotions were coming to the fore.
Next up was the children’s choir of the Lesya Ukrayinka Ukrainian School, ably run by Lina Maksymuk and artistic director Iryna Muha. Some of the children are new arrivals, but they managed to learn their parts in double quick time. Their repertoire of four songs included the well-known songs Hutsulka Ksenia and Ukraine is You, as well as Eurovision winning song Stefaniya.
Ukraine is You was powerful, with the children managing to put real emotion into the words. The crowd sang along to Stefaniya, and appreciated the amazing rap. The singing was sandwiched between a poem by Lesya Ukrayinka, Contra Spem Spero, recited by a young recent arrival by the name of Maria Shevchenko.
The singing continued with three songs from the Nottingham-based Boyan male voice choir, which was established back in 1979. They sang We Were Born in a Great Hour, A Golden Sun is Shining and For Our Native Land.
Iryna Muha then provided guests with a repertoire of folk songs and an unannounced one, all accompanied with Carpathian instruments like the bagpipe. Ukrainian folk song Bitter Fate was particularly moving. My Dear Come Home and the bagpipe tune Kaba Gaida also stood out.
The program then went in a different direction with a Cossack dancing routine ably performed by the Midlands-based troupe the Cossacks. Led by artistic director Ivan Furgala, their three-man performance included a sword dance.
Poetry was on the schedule next, as recited by Briton Phill Holland. It brought us back quickly to Putin’s war. Ode to a Brave Soldier Though I Knew You Not was also recited in Ukrainian by Kateryna Harnaha. Mr Holland also read Why Can’t I Write a Poem?
Both poems were heavy and intense, and expressed the helplessness of ordinary people watching events but seemingly powerless to influence them.
The singing highlight was arguably left till last, as the Boyan choir sang the exciting, powerful folk song Cossacks, Unharness Your Horses and the soloists, sisters Tania and Ulana Buczok, sang beautifully in unison with Boyan as they performed the apt tearjerker I Love You, My Ukraine. The lyrics touch both heart and soul, as they raise the theme of pining and yearning for beautiful Ukraine from afar.
The nice thing about the concert was the positive vibe and crowd participation. The crowd was keen from the very start and right to the Ukrainian national anthem at the end.
Hutsulka Ksenia, as sung by the school children and the Boyan choir’s Cossacks, Unharness Your Horses, really stood out. The children’s singing created a warm atmosphere early on and got the crowd going. The tone for the night was set.
Nottingham City Council Leader and Councillor David Mellen was among the dignitaries present, as was local Member of Parliament for Gedling Tom Randall.
Mr Randall said the concert was a moving experience and had something to tell Kyiv Post about the sword routine he’d witnessed. “A very special, moving event. A great insight into Ukrainian culture. And the closest I ever want to get to a Cossack sword fight!”
Talking of whom, one of the dancers, Ivan Furgala, who is also the group’s artistic director, had time after the show to recall the contribution made by past generations. “This year’s Independence Day is a time of reflection on what our grandparents fought for over the course of many years. We’re very proud to go on stage to keep our traditions and culture going.”
Iryna Muha was, along with Ukrainian School Headmistress Lina Maksymchuk, instrumental in preparing the children’s singing performance. Though Iryna stressed that there was only a month to prepare them, she was now looking to the future. “The war must end. And Ukraine must win”, she told Kyiv Post.
After the concert Father David Senyk paid tribute to the almost heroic efforts local Britons who have been so hospitable and opened their homes to newly-arrived Ukrainians. It was a theme he’d mentioned earlier when introducing the prayer Our Father.
He told Kyiv Post: “We wholeheartedly thank everyone who, over the last six months has adopted, sponsored and supported Ukraine and Ukrainians. Your dedication, efforts and love are testimony to the ideals and rights of freedom and truth. God Bless you all! God Bless Ukraine!”
Слава Україні! Героям Слава!
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