Ukraine: Music as a refuge from war

15 Jun

Ukrainian opera singer Sergiy Anastasyev, who has appeared on stages across Europe, is on his way to a performance in Bonn, Germany.

 

The war forced him to move there in early March. Since then, he has been counting the days until he can return home to Kyiv. On this particular day, he is preparing to perform with the choir of the University of Bonn. He joined the group to avoid thinking about the war and do what he loves most — singing.

They have already had their last rehearsal, and there's only one hour left until the show starts. An aerial view shows a residential building destroyed by shelling.

Many friends lost in the war

Anastasyev exudes calm. He rarely gets nervous, at least not when he's singing or talking about music. "War is nothing new, and I have lost many friends in recent years," Anastasyev told DW. "Music has always been my refuge, it relaxes me and gives me hope. It helps keep bad thoughts at bay, even though my mind and heart are always with those who are fighting on the front line."

This is not the first time conflict forced Anastasyev to flee. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and began backing pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, he had to leave his hometown of Donetsk.

History repeating itself

At the time, in addition to being a musician, Anastasyev also took up a political post. This put him at even greater risk, and he eventually relocated to Kyiv. However, on February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine and capture the capital.

For Anastasyev, it was history repeating itself. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree barring men aged between 18-60 from leaving and urging them to pick up arms and defend the nation.

Anastasyev is over 60, so was allowed to leave the country. He would have fought if he could. "I wanted to serve in the war but because of my age, I couldn't," he says.

Escaping from Russian bombs

"For the first ten days, my family and I were still in Kyiv," he recalls. "But on the tenth day, our house was bombed three times." The attacks prompted him to take his wife and two children to Vinnytsia, southwest of Kyiv. Anastasyev then came to Germany alone, hoping his family would soon be able to join him. 

For now, however, they remain in Vinnytsia. Since the war started, Anastasyev has been unable to sing the song "Brothers' grave" — a song about soldiers who go to war and don't come back. It was written by Russian singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky, whom Anastasyev has always admired. Sergiy says that when he hears this song, he sheds tears as he remembers friends who have been killed in the war. 

Life as a refugee in Germany

"Adjusting to life in Germany was easy," says Anastasyev. He has visited the country to perform several times, and says he's made new friends. "Because of the war there is a big Ukrainian community here in Bonn," he points out. "There are get-togethers where we sing Ukrainian songs. That makes me feel a little bit more at home."

At the evening's concert, the audience give the performers a standing ovation. For Anastasyev, it's some comfort. But what he really wants is to return to Ukraine. "I'm going back home soon, whether the war ends or not," he says.

 

Author Ines Cardoso

Permalink - https://p.dw.com/p/4CfqX


Leave a comment