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Rostyslav Hrebiniak


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The tenor sings in the Prime Orchestra for Ukraine

Music dominates the life of Rostyslav Hrebinjak. The 30-year-old is a professional musician. He sings tenor in the Kharkiv Prime Orchestra. Additionally, he’s the director of a music academy in Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million in north-eastern Ukraine. Soon the spring tour is about to start. A nice outlook for the future.

This outlook is shattered to pieces by explosions in the night of February 24th. Bombs detonate in Kharkiv, missiles hit residential areas. The noise also jolts Rostyslav out of his sleep. He runs into the street and meets neighbours who are equally shocked and try to grasp what’s happening: war has come.

“I would never have thought that a peaceful country would just be invaded in the 21st century”, Rostyslav states. When the Russian military were amassing troops at the border nearby, he took some precautions, though. He talked to friends who live in a house with a basement. That provides at least some sort of protection. He drives there on the very same day. The three of them buy food supplies and stand in long lines to take out more money from the bank.

Kharkiv is targeted on a daily basis. Mostly the outskirts are affected. A few days later, the Russian forces even advance into town. Rostyslav and his friends put together Molotov cocktails to defend themselves, but then Ukrainian forces push back the attackers.

At the beginning of March, the air raids intensify. The Russian army targets central buildings in the city. The three friends hold out in the apartment because the space in the basement is already crowded.

The shock waves from the explosions are so strong that plaster falls from the ceiling.

In spite of all this, Rostyslav remains in Kharkiv. He gets involved in the civic defence of the city. He and his friends cook meals for Ukrainian soldiers. There are films on the internet showing how he and others practice giving first aid for victims of shot wounds.

“We have learned how to live with war”, he explains.

The orchestra, however, has different plans. The musicians are supposed to go on a tour abroad to raise awareness of the Ukrainian cause. It’s not easy to put that plan into practice. A lot of the orchestra’s musicians have already left Kharkiv and fled to Western Ukraine. Some haven’t even taken their instruments. The tour start gets postponed to late April, which is when the musicians are scheduled to meet in Lviv, close to the Polish border.

The journey on the train takes 21 hours. Rostyslav can’t remember the exact way the train went anymore, because there were too many air raids, stops, and detours on the way. The Prime Orchestra tour takes him to Poland and Latvia. He sings in Katowice and Warsaw. When they return to Ukraine on May 30th, the next tour has already been planned out. This time it takes them to Germany: Hanover, Einbeck, Osnabrück, and the State Music Academy in Wolfenbüttel are on the tour schedule. Poland is supposed to be next, but all concerts have been cancelled there.

After their show at the State Music Academy, the Orchestra’s fate is up in the air. Without further shows they are obliged to return to Ukraine. But the way that led them to Wolfenbüttel is not at its end just yet. Andre Volke and Henning Kramer, two volunteers in the local aid programme for Ukrainian refugees, start organising more shows, and the town administration is able to accommodate all 40 musicians in the same house. The outlook for Rostyslav and his music is getting brighter – at least for the next few months.