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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Middlebury united with hope for Ukraine

The evening highlighted Ukraine as a nation of courage and resilience.
The evening highlighted Ukraine as a nation of courage and resilience.

A group of Middlebury Ukrainian students and members of the community presented the ReUnited for Ukraine, a continuation of the United For Ukraine beneficiary concert, featuring musical and multimedia performances at the Mahaney Arts Center on Saturday, March 31. The evening’s message highlighted why Ukraine is fighting and what the country has to fight for. Audience members were also encouraged to donate to Ukrainian nonprofits to support the ongoing defense effort.

Head organizer Mariia Dzholos ’24 said when organizing this year’s event she sought to continue the great legacy of Masha Makutonina ’21.5 who organized the event last year after war broke out.

“If Masha found all the strength to put it all together a year ago,” Dzholos said. “I had to find energy to do it all again and continue the tradition because the war goes on.” Unfortunately, according to her, the situation has worsened in Ukraine. 

When asked about organizing and helping to plan ReUnited for Ukraine for a second time, a year into the war, Dzholos said, “We were discussing this. We were discussing this also last year. After the war is over, we will have to organize another concert for the rebuilding of Ukraine. There was no question of whether to organize the concert or not. There was a question about what will be the message would be.” Last year, the United for Ukraine concert’s message was to dipsell Vladimir Putin’s myth that Ukraine is a part of Russia without its own unique culture by demonstrating Ukraine’s deep roots through traditional folk songs. This year the message was why Ukraine fights and why it needs the support of the world. 

The concert began with Terynn Kuzma and Stephan Zaets performing a beautiful slow ballad, “Spy Moia Lastivko,” with music by Viktor Morozov, a Ukrainian pop artist, and lyrics by Mar’iana Savka, on banduras. The bandura is a traditional Ukrainian folk harp whose players were persecuted for expressing Ukrainian nationalism when the Soviet Union attempted to wipe out Ukrainian culture. Today, the bandura is widely played across Ukraine.

Next, Diana Herasim, an exchange student from Kherson, Ukraine at Middlebury Union High School, delivered a powerful emotional speech about her experience with the war. She spoke about her friend from boxing who was killed on the frontline fighting the Russians. Last year, Herasim gave a speech at the United for Ukraine event while her home in Kherson was occupied by the Russian forces. This year when she spoke again at the ReUnited for Ukraine event, her home city was free, liberated by brave Ukrainian forces.  

Next, Chapel Hill, a Middlebury student band, performed “Oi u Luzi Chervona Kalyna” (Oh, there is a red viburnum in the meadow) an inspirational Ukrainian folk song written in 1912, and adopted by the Ukrainian National Liberation Army as their anthem in 2014. The song is about Ukrainian soldiers fighting off the enemy and has been embraced as a patriotic symbol of resistance against the Russian invasion. After the 2022 invasion the song was picked up by many mainstream artists including Pink Floyd. After the liberation of Kherson, “Oi u Luzi Chervona Kalyna” was sung in the streets along with the Ukrainian national anthem, “Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina.”

Apart from powerful emotive music, twelve student dancers performed a joyous Ukrainian folk dance, Hopak, in traditional Ukrainian outfits. The Hopak is a Cossack dance derived from the Ukrainian word “Hopaty” meaning “to leap or jump,” and features many acrobatic leaps and cartwheels. 

The next section of the event featured a moving film created by Masha Makutonina ’21.5. Her film titled “The Sinking Moment of Facing War” was full of stimulating imagery about “the before.” Before a plane crashes, before Russia invades Ukraine. It suspended the audience in time questioning the future, anticipating an impact or a change. 

Following the film, members of the Middlebury community Jeff Buettner and Jessica Allen relieved the tension in the room with their beautiful baritone and soprano duet called “Nadiia, Vira i Liubov” (Hope, Faith and Love), a popular Ukrainian ballad. 

Rostyk Yarovyk ’25 next performed a poem called “Os’ Pro Tse I Rozpovim” (So I’ll talk about it) written by Serhiy Zhadan, a modern poet and Ukrainian rockstar. In the poem Zhadan reflects on the last eight years of war in Ukraine. “Eastern Ukraine, the end of the second millennium, the world is brimming with fire and music and in the darkness.” Later on, Dzholos read the poem “Eastern Europe is a Pit of Death and Decaying Plums” by Oksana Lutsyshyna, a Ukrainian Professor at the University of Texas Austin. The poem explored themes of death, war and sorrow, through the relationship between a man and woman.

Apart from the war and destruction in the past year, the evening highlighted Ukraine as a nation of pristine cinematography and as the proud home to many gold medal athletes. A beautiful film created by Misha Poklad ’22 which compiled the 50 best Ukrainian movies into two minutes was presented, and Ksenia Lebid ’26 performed the ballad “Kyiv” by Cepasa with Chapel Hill while projecting pre-war footage of a vibrant Kyiv at night on the screen behind the band. The Middlebury College Choir added to the joy, performing “Shchedryk” (Carol of the Bells) in close harmony. 

The evening finished off with two more lovely ballads, “Song From a Secret Garden” and “Volia” (liberty) performed by Terynn Kuzma and Stephan Zaets on their banduras. It was an evening of joy and inspiration: A hopeful celebration of Ukraine. “It was really an honor to be able to be a part of this event. It was really wonderful to see so many people in the audience celebrating Ukrainian culture,” said Roskva Torhalhalsottir ’25, a dancer who performed.

Liza Grebenkina ’25 said, “I’m from Russia and I have a lot of Ukrainian friends on campus and for me it is especially important to be here to show my support for them. It is so important to remember that Ukraine is not only about the war and there is so much beauty and power in it.” 

The evening united the Middlebury community with hope for Ukraine's future. Even after the program had ended members of the audience were joyously singing Ukrainian folk tunes together. It was a wonderful experience. “I believe we will do it again next year and the message will not be about the war but about rebuilding and putting our effort to build back better,” Dzholos said.

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