Ukraine violinists find peace in Denmark

With three friends, all violinists like her, Nadia Safina fled the invasion of Ukraine to find peace at a music school in Denmark, a horrific ordeal that took 10 days.

A 23-year-old musician from Ukraine, poses with her violin in Stevns, Denmark on March 10, 2022.
Nadia Safina fled the invasion of Ukraine with three friends to find refuge in a music school in Denmark after a ten-day journey. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

Now, “all we have is our talent. Not boots. Not clothes, not jewellery. Only our talent and our instruments,” the 24-year-old says, a weary look of despair in her eyes.

Safe but with her “heart in pain”, she arrived this week in Stevns, an hour outside Copenhagen, far from the bombs falling on her hometown of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine which she fled on the first day of the war.

The four women are now at the Scandinavian Cello School, which frequently welcomes artists from around the world but is now focusing exclusively on bringing over Ukrainian musicians.

“We support them with exactly the same conditions as everybody else. We give them a place to study and to stay for free, and food,” the school’s director Jacob Shaw says.

Thanks to his professional network, he was able to arrange for the four women’s exodus on the first day of Russia’s invasion on February 24.

The school is now hosting six Ukrainian musicians who have fled the war, and three more are expected in the coming days.

Four musicians who have fled Ukraine pose in Stevns, Denmark on March 10, 2022.

With three friends that are musicians like herself, Nadia Safina fled the invasion of Ukraine to find refuge in a music school in Denmark. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

Nadia and her fiancé Misha, both alto violinists, and his sister Ksenia Kusherova, also a 24-year-old violinist, had already planned to come to the school before the war broke out.

“On February 24th, we woke up to the sound of bombs. It was scary. Really scary. Panic broke out everywhere in our dormitory, and we just packed up our stuff,” says Nadia, still shaken by the events.

Their first stop was her mother’s place in Donets, a village in the nearby countryside. Then the women went to Lviv, where they picked up Ksenia’s family, and left for Poland.

They travelled by car, train and bus to reach Warsaw.

“In Lviv, we waited eight hours on the platform in zero degrees and we couldn’t get on a train.”

Like all able-bodied men aged 18 to 60, Misha was not allowed to leave Ukraine. He returned to his hometown of Kriviy Rig in central Ukraine. Since then, Nadia has worried for his safety. The two are in constant contact.

“We send messages, we speak every day, every hour.”

‘Just want to return home’ 

Nadia thinks back on her life before the war. “I had three jobs, my studies, my students, my colleagues. I had everything I needed. And I had very big plans for my life.”

The conservatory and university in Kharkiv have since been bombed, the instruments destroyed. Her professor is still there, in a shelter, caring for his disabled mother.

“We can’t imagine what the future holds because they don’t stop bombing us. We can’t plan anything,” she says despairingly.

“I just want to return home, I want God to save our friends and our families. That is my plan now,” she says. “But Putin is crazy. He won’t stop anytime soon.”

In Stevns, a pastoral oasis nestled between the sea and countryside, she has a tidy room under the rafters. She practises her alto violin, either in her room or in the music hall in another building on the grounds, formerly a farm.

Director of the Scandinavian Cello School, with four musicians who fled Ukraine in Stevns, Denmark on March 10, 2022.

Jacob Shaw, director of the Scandinavian Cello School, welcomes Ukrainian musicians in Stevns, Denmark on March 10, 2022. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

With their friends Olesia Kliepak and Marharyta Serdiuk, who had to hide for several days in Kharkiv before joining the others in Poland, Nadia and Ksenia now appreciate the tranquillity in Stevns, though they are still sick with worry.

A few hundred metres away, the beach provides some solace. Denmark is known for its ultra-restrictive asylum and refugee policy, but it has welcomed Ukrainians with open arms, making exemptions to its strict curbs to facilitate their entry to the labour market, among other things.

The Scandinavian country of 5.8 million has said it is ready to take in up to 20,000 Ukrainians. Since the start of the conflict to March 8, around 850 Ukrainians had sought asylum or applied for a work permit.

READ MORE: Denmark extends special permission to fly Ukrainian flag


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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.