As Ukraine continues to fight off Russia’s military invasion, we see more and more heartbreaking images of suffering and destruction from the war. Apartment buildings where people went about their lives less than three weeks ago devastated by bombs, rubble and missiles in streets and playgrounds where families walked and children played, hoards of people fleeing with what they could carry, leaving everything they’ve known behind.
The loss and waste and inhumanity of it all are unfathomable, as is the case in every war.
And yet, just like in every war, we see glimpses of beauty and connection, of the very things that make us human and provide hope that we as a species are not doomed by the worst of us. We see love, we see laughter, we see compassion—and we see music.
One of the most remarkable things about humans is how we make art, no matter what. You’d think when our basic survival is immediately threatened, we wouldn’t bother with creating beauty or expressing ourselves artistically, but we do. Every time. Art is not an add-on to life; it’s inextricably wrapped up in life itself.
Art is also a way for us to express solidarity, especially when we feel helpless to stop inhumanity from happening. It’s a way for us to say, “I see you. I am with you. I acknowledge your suffering even if I can’t make it stop. Let’s let this beauty remind us of what humans are capable of on the other side of violence and conquest.”
That’s what makes this viral video of violinists around the world playing with a Ukrainian violinist so beautiful.
In the video, Ukrainian violinist Illia Bondarenko plays a gorgeous and haunting Ukrainian folk song on his violin from a bomb shelter in Kyiv. At first, it’s just him playing solo, but soon he is joined by nine other young Ukrainian violinists who are also sheltering. Then more violinists join from different countries, then more and more, all playing along in harmony.
In all, 94 violinists from 29 countries—whose flags are depicted in the corners of their screens—contribute to what British violinist and organizer Kerenza Peacock called “an international violin choir of support.” They include world-class violinists from the London Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, the Hollywood studios and renowned violinists who play various styles of violin from Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, Georgia, Poland, South Korea, South Africa, Moldova, Denmark, India, Germany, the U.S. and more.
Watch and listen:
According to Classic FM, Bondarenko had to record his part between bombings so he could hear himself play. That detail alone is just heartwrenching. But musicians play wherever they are, whatever is happening.
Bondarenko had shared a video on Instagram on February 25, the day after Russia invaded, explaining what was happening and how the international music world had already been lending its support. He wrote:
“Today, when my whole country is fighting for its freedom, for its territory, for the right to BE…, I cannot keep silent, but I cannot make a video and record for you right now on the Internet because I spent almost all night with my grandmother in the basement of the house, helping the elderly neighbors, helping in any way I could. My parents are in another city now. But we musicians are always there for our people in sorrow and joy! That’s how my soul, my country, my Kyiv sounds today. Thank you to everyone who writes to me and supports me! From Germany, America, France, Italy, Argentina, Switzerland, Poland, Japan, Turkey, Austria and other countries. I am convinced once again that music is the most understandable language in the world for all people! Glory to Ukraine!”
Violinist Kerenza Peacock, who organized the collaboration—and pulled it together in 48 hours—shared what made this collaboration so moving: “Never before have violinists gathered together from so many countries. Or collaborated across so many different styles of violin playing. Violinists are a fellowship who all have rosin and broken E strings in common, but sadly some are currently having to think about how to arm themselves, and hiding in bomb shelters instead of playing Beethoven or bluegrass. Some more Ukrainians wanted to take part, but now have guns in their hands instead of violins.”
Here’s to those who insist on the beauty and humanity of creative expression even in the face of inhumane atrocities, reminding us of who we are and what we are capable of when we focus our energies on creation instead of destruction.