Safe from bombs, Ukraine’s ‘cellar violinist’ plays to boost morale

ROME, Italy (AP) – A soft tune from a violin played by a musician who has been dubbed Ukraine’s “cellar violinist” is a lullaby for a child sheltering in the dark basement of an apartment building. apartments in the besieged Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Vera Lytovchenko has become an internet icon of resilience as images of the concert violinist performing in the basement bomb shelter inspired international audiences via social media.

When heavy Russian shelling of the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine began two weeks ago, Lytovchenko, his teacher father and neighbors sought refuge in the basement of their building.

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“Bombs can fall anywhere in our city, so we decided to go down to the basement,” the 39-year-old violinist told The Associated Press via Skype on Wednesday during a brief respite from shelling during a ceasefire -temporary fire. “We are about 12 people now. We have little boys. We have teenagers. We have older women.

A week after their meeting began in the basement, Lytovchenko decided to try to cheer up his cellar mates by organizing small concerts.

“All of these people are my brothers and sisters now,” she said. “I was trying to get them to think about something and not about the war for a few minutes while I was playing.”

She later thought about posting her recitals, featuring Vivaldi’s soothing strains and even Lytovchenko singing a Russian folk song, on social media. The reaction surprised her: more than 40,000 views on Facebook and thousands more on YouTube.

“I didn’t expect that because I was posting just to reach my friends, my relatives. My aunt is near Kyiv and I fear for her,” she said.

“My friends are in different cities all over Ukraine and I try to keep a connection with them, I text them several times a day to find out if they are alive,” Lytovchenko said. “A lot of people are texting me saying my videos give them such support and hope. They can see someone is staying here” in Kharkiv.

“Someone is alive and someone is hopeful and optimistic,” she said.

On Wednesday, during the temporary ceasefire in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, Lytovchenko was able to return to his apartment for a few hours. She told the AP she was happy to see sunlight after spending two weeks in the dark basement, adding that she and her neighbors were lucky because they had heating in the basement and food.

Before the war, Lytovchenko performed for the Kharkiv Opera Orchestra and taught music lessons.

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“It was another life…a normal life,” she said of the pre-war days. “I am an orchestra player. I am a college teacher. I have my students, I have friends, I go to concerts, I play operas and ballets. I play Italian operas in the theatre.

Describing Ukraine before the war, Lytovchenko said: “We had a cultural life in our country, our cities, despite the coronavirus. We were vaccinated. It was a normal life. … But now we can’t figure out what’s going on.

Lytovchenko says she hopes her posts can help raise funds for Kharkiv’s music community.

“I dream of my little financial fund, because I received messages from all over the world, from all countries. They texted me, they want to help,” she said.

She wants to “help musicians…and rebuild our city, our conservatory, our music school, our music school,” she said. “To help our musicians who have lost their homes and to help musicians return to their own towns and not be refugees.”

Lytovchenko said as scary as it sounds, playing in the basement to cheer others up has given him new encouragement.

“That’s why I’m making these videos, I’m trying to help, I’m trying to do whatever I can,” she said.

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