Music: amplifying voices from Ukraine

In November 2017, Razom hosted a fundraiser to support The Co-Pilot Project. Olga Breydo, a supporter and member of the audience that evening shares her experience from the evening.


It’s a November evening in New York and I get to witness something brilliant — a small concert where Slava Vakarchuk, the frontman for the Ukrainian band Okean Elzy, and his compatriot, Fima Chupakhin, share a tiny stage. The venue is much smaller than what these musicians are typically used to — a private home with several dozen guests — but the idea is grand: to help Razom, a charity whose mission is to ‘build a prosperous Ukraine one project at a time.’


Slava’s voice owns the room, fills it to the brim. Ever-changing, it slides down and climbs up, from the whisper and whistle of summer rain to a rumbling, heart-stopping thunder. The lights are dimmed, the audience is frozen in mid-gesture, the pianist, hunched over the instrument, dances his fingers over the keys. These musicians are both in a world that we, mortals, can’t reach. And I wonder if they know what they do to us, how they take us in, how they lift us. How the performance takes hold of our every muscle, how it transports us. I wonder if they know how precious they are to us, that we appreciate what we take from them. Bits of their voice, their sweat, their work, their gift. We take and they give.


I speak of a small concert, a glimmering speck in a storm of music heard around world. A short row of lighted windows on a dark street, an hour in a life of a group of people. And I am lucky to be one of them. I sit on the edge of my seat, my hand on my heart, enamored of the sound, recalling another, much colder day in New York. The streets are gripped by the winter, the train shakes the overpass above Brighton Beach, and I am as lonely and lost as most of us in this city. I am a new transplant, a chaser of what this place rarely offers. I walk my frozen feet to the glass doors of a certain bookstore that also sells music. Russian books and Russian music for Russian people. A Russian-speaking, Ukrainian-born, American Jew, I browse the aisles. I look for music to last me, to get me over this place, over the dirt, the grit. Over the numbing cold, the wind, the tough, cramping, leg-crushing-godforsaken rat race. Give me something new, I say, fingering the rows of plastic-wrapped CD’s. And then I find it. Model, their third album. A Ukrainian album by a Ukrainian rock group, in a Russian bookstore that sells Russian music for Russian people.


I clutch my treasure all the way home, thinking how the ten years of self-absorbed immigrant struggles have rendered me out of touch with my homeland, which is now independent, Ukrainian, Ukrainian-speaking. With its own bands famous-enough to produce albums and sell out concert halls.


At home, I free the music from its wrapper and unleash it into my world. And I can’t stop listening, I can’t get enough. It becomes my religion for days, months, maybe even years. But that evening the sound fills me. It spreads the heavy walls of my desolate, basement room. It lifts the low ceiling, it scoops me up from the floor, and it gives me a soft little push. Up up. To higher ground.


by Olga Breydo



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