The walk to the auditorium was a quiet one — and cold. The rain-smelling April 16 night gave little notice that any kind of event, let alone a heavily promoted concert to support Ukraine amid the 2022 Russian invasion, was about to begin. It was only as the streetlamps leading to the Granoff Music Center fizzled to life that the open door to the center came into view.
There were a few disparate groups around the lobby. A woman in a bright red dress conversed with theater staff next to the main entrance to Distler Performance Hall. Across from her, an older couple had set up a small table to sell pins of the Ukrainian flag. As students and local supporters tricked in, some moved to buy a pin to show support. A car with a sign titled “Say No to Putin” parked just outside the entrance. One student pointedly remarked as they passed by, “That’s what will stop Putin — signs.” Yet the doors opened to Distler soon after, giving way to a surprisingly powerful event. Artem Dinh, the organizer of the concert and the recent Rally for Ukraine, took the stage clad in a Ukrainian vyshyvanka.
Dinh did not want to do the rally at first, he told the Daily in an interview on April 20. He openly admits that he is “not an activist, [he’s] an engineer” and did not initially see the point in organizing anything at Tufts. But after seeing the success of other universities, Dinh felt he had to do something, especially with the ambivalence he saw from staff and students through all-too-standard emails and Sidechat jokes. It’s from this same desire that the concert eventually came into existence.
Quickly following Dinh was junior Archit Jain, who touched on how, after an emotional dinner with Dinh, they had decided to write a poem for all who felt the burdens of the war. The poem, titled “Spoken Words for Peace,” clearly meant a lot to the poet and earned the first round of applause for the evening.
Olga Lisovskaya, the woman in red from earlier, followed Jain’s exit. As a local soprano artist, she displayed her talents by leading the room in the Ukrainian national anthem. Natasha Sky, the woman selling pins in the lobby and founder of the Sky International Center, then joined Lisovskaya on the stage. Both from Ukraine, they thanked Dinh for putting the performance together and encouraged the audience to become more involved in supporting Ukraine.
Lisovskaya then finished by performing three folk songs from her youth, “Watching the sky and thinking a thought”, “Yak tebe ne liubyty, Kyieve mii!” (the anthem of Kyiv) and “Gandzia.” At the end of her emotional set, the entire audience gave her the loudest applause of the night.
The Klezmer Ensemble, also known as the Jumbo Knish Factory, performed next with two pieces of Ukrainian Jewish music. A combination of a violin, accordion, bass and trumpet carried out a quick yet varied repertoire, leading to a memorable performance.
Sophomore Kevin Tang then unleashed a piano solo of his own, titled “Oppression and Peace.” An initially dark but soon uplifting piece, it felt as if Tang’s rage and passion were personified in the notes now ringing in the hall.
Cindy Wang then sang “As Wished” by Faye Wong. Despite technical issues that made it difficult to hear her at times, Wang persevered in performing a soft but sweet song.
Sam Sjostedt and Sueda Catakoglu, a pair of Armenian Americans from Berklee, soon emerged to perform a series of Armenian folk songs. With Sjostedt on the duduk and Catakoglu on piano, the pair effortlessly performed the calming “Oror,” and the more passionate “Krunk” and “Chinar es.”
Janngo, also known as Mariam Janjghava, and Preston Gasser, also from Berklee, were up next to give a rendition of the song “Oj, de ty jdes.” Technical issues with sounds were frustrating again, but Janngo’s professionalism and Gasser’s piano skills carried the segment.
The Amalgamates, one of the two Tufts a cappella groups invited to perform, gave an excellent rendition of The Rescues’ “My Heart with You” (2008). Their prowess was on full and effective display.
Sophomore Leslie Yuan persisted through continual technical hiccups while playing Mavis Fan’s “War,” and sophomore Janice Wang brought back the momentum with Giveon’s “Heartbreak Anniversary.”
Dinh then reemerged to introduce Maria Kotova, a Russian soprano singer. She again performed “Watching the sky and thinking a thought” but this time carrying a yellow flag in her right hand, waving it through the more emotional segments of the tune. She followed this with “The Cossack Rode Beyond the Danube” and threw small yellow flowers into the audience. Her performance captured the audience’s love yet again.
Toward the end, the next a cappella group, Tufts sQ!, gave an excellent rendition of “Run to You” by Pentatonix. Lizi Nikvashvili finally closed out the performances with returning pianist and fellow Berklee student, Gasser. After a standard piano piece, Nikvashvili performed two Georgian songs that raised the crowd from its end-of-show stupor. With the crowd’s full love and attention, Nikvashvili noted how proud she was of the Ukrainian people.
As the music concluded, Dinh took the stage once again to invite three students, all Ukrainian, to the stage. Tufts first-year Eulalia Tisnovsky, Harvard University graduate student Alexander Nikolaenko and Northeastern second-year student Alex Nikanov stunned the audience into silence with their stories of drafted family members, friends who have passed away and the pride of being Ukrainian.
When it came time to end the show with a chant in solidarity with those on the frontline, even the few individuals who had mocked the concert’s efforts fell silent. They joined the rest in standing and shouting the now famous call: “Slava Ukraini! Heroyam slava!”