Toronto artists show support for Ukraine

Performers sing a popular Ukrainian song at the "Playing for Ukraine" awareness concert. (Courtesy Feiyang Liu)

Performers sing a popular Ukrainian song at the “Playing for Ukraine” awareness concert. (Courtesy Feiyang Liu)

Toronto residents had Ukrainian protesters in their thoughts, prayers and songs this weekend.

“Playing for Ukraine,” a Ukrainian awareness concert, was held Saturday as a way to support the eastern European nation through music.

Fourth-year Ryerson geography student Svitlana Hrytsenko was among those supporters.

The event featured local musicians, poets and artists and took place at On Cue Billiards in the city’s west end, an area known for its large population of Ukrainian residents.

The concert paid homage to fallen protesters in the country’s recent riots. Since November, 95 people have died, according to the Ukrainian Health Ministry.

Hrytsenko, whose family is in the southern city of Kherson and not near the riots, said she wishes Ryerson’s Ukrainian club would put more effort into helping those affected by the crisis.

“I’m surprised that they haven’t done a fundraiser or anything like that yet,” Hrytsenko said.

Borys Brodziuk, co-president of the Ukrainian Students’ Club, says he hopes to raise funds by hosting a pub night at Ryerson on March 7.

Four months ago, Ukraine’s now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a trade deal from the European Union, in favour of stronger relations with Russia.

Thousands of Ukrainians, who support long-standing efforts for greater ties with Europe, objected the deal. Protesters have been in Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian) ever since, transitioning from once peaceful protests to violent ones.

Music has also been a strong theme within the Ukranian protests. In Kiev, riot police blasted anti-government protesters across the barricade with Russian pop songs on Feb 10.

Their efforts were countered by the melodies of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, The Beatles and Ukraine’s national anthem – played on a blue and yellow piano atop the barricade.

Olga Glotka, a Ukrainian musician and painter, performed at Saturday’s concert. One of her friends took part in the country’s protests and is now badly injured.

“Our people, they are beaten, they are being kidnapped, they are being tortured,” she said. “Students in the square were having fun, singing the Ukrainian national anthem. The police showed up and beat everybody. People ran away … girls tried to run away. Even those were beaten. My friend was one of them.”

As Glotka talks about the protests, she says she is reminded of the 2010 G20 summit.

“The difference is that, in Toronto, it was all over TV. (A girl) sued the police afterwards, and they were charged,” she said.

In Ukraine, Glotka says, it’s a different story.

During Saturday’s concert, Glotka sang and strummed her acoustic guitar as a slideshow of dead protesters played on the side.

“People there cannot hear it. But people here do. It helps them to have the strength to fight and remember those who are fighting right now,” Glotka said.

She finished her song and was met with cheers of praise — specifically, a Ukrainian phrase that roughly translates to “Well done.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.

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