July 23, 2024

Ashland to Sviatohirsk: ‘Ashland is with you. Together we will overcome’

Katerina Sokol reads Maria Shipovska's narration about Ukrainian culture and the war. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop
August 20, 2023

Concert for sister city raises funds, lifts spirits for war-ravaged Ukrainian town

By Paul R. Huard for

A benefit concert Saturday afternoon for Ashland’s war-torn sister city Sviatohirsk not only raised at least three times its fundraising goal but also sent a clear message to all Ukrainians: You are not alone. You are not forgotten.

Betsy Bishop, one of the fundraiser’s organizers, estimated Saturday night after the show that ticket sales, donations made through the concert website, and proceeds from a silent auction raised more than $14,500. Performers played to a packed house with 380 people in attendance at the Mountain Avenue Theatre at Ashland High School, she said.

The Southern Oregon Repertory Singers perform before a full house at a benefit concert Saturday for Ashland’s sister city of Sviatohirsk. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop

There was no word on the amount raised through direct donations to Ukraine International Aid that audience members could make by using a QR code provided in the concert’s program, but Bishop said she suspected that “it will be substantial.”

A member of the Ukrainian singing group poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop

“The concert was a complete success,” Bishop said during a telephone interview Saturday night. “People in the audience really care about Ukraine, and they showed it with their generosity.”

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian forces under the direction of President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in force, an escalation of hostilities that have been directed by Russia against Ukraine since its illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014.

The result is the largest war on the European continent since World War II, a war of aggression that has displaced 14 million Ukrainians, destroyed many Ukrainian cities, and provoked an international crisis.

On June 20, the Ashland City Council approved a “sister city” relationship between the two municipalities that includes plans for community-funded efforts to rebuild civilian facilities wiped out by the invading Russian Army during its 2022 occupation of Sviatohirsk.

One of the results of the Ashland council vote was the formation of Ashland-Sviatohirsk Aid Project, or ASAP, a citizen-led group that not only wants to build and maintain ties between the two cities, but also to help raise money and provide tangible help that will support the rebuilding effort.

Iryna Kudielina gets some help on the piano with the Chopin Sonata for Piano and Cello. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop

The invading Russian army devastated the town, destroying water and sewage systems, razing civilian buildings, and even demolishing Sviatohirsk’s sole garbage collection truck. ASAP wants to use the money raised to purchase a new garbage truck to remove the tons of rotting trash now deposited in the city’s center, as well as buy an earthmover to clear rubble.

Saturday’s concert is also the first of what ASAP hopes will be other efforts to garner tangible support for the city of 4,200 people, which is in the Donetsk oblast (province) of southeastern Ukraine, about 100 miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia.

The acts during the concert did not disappoint the crowd. The performances included: vocal music by the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, Kalinonka Ukrainian Singers, and Michael and Victoria Silversher; instrumental performances by pianist Iryna Kudielina and cellist Kris Yvon Yenney; a speech about Ukrainian heritage and culture by Maria Shipovska performed by Katerina Sokol; a presentation of photos by Ashland art photographer and photojournalist Christopher Briscoe; and a video by Ben Stott, who not only produced the documentary but twice volunteered in Ukraine as a relief worker.

Michael Silversher and Kris Yvon Yenney prepare to perform at Saturday’s show. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop

Many of the musical works were either Ukrainian in origin or performed in Ukrainian.

Some audience members were visibly moved by the performances, shedding tears after seeing photos of the devastation of Ukrainian towns and cities. Even though the concert ran overtime, the crowd stayed until the end and delivered thunderous applause in appreciation.

Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham praised the continuing local support for the new sister city, saying that the help offered by residents is characteristic of the city’s community spirit.

“Ashland, when we see something that needs to be done, we roll up our sleeves and do the work,” Graham said during comments she made the from the theater stage.

Graham and emcee Jade Chavis led the audience in rehearsing a greeting in Ukrainian for the people of Sviatohirsk that the mayor then video-recorded with her smart phone. In English, the greeting is, “People of Sviatohirsk, Ashland is with you. Together we will overcome.”

Members of the Kalinonka Ukrainian Singers pose for a photo. Photo courtesy of Betsy Bishop

Graham recently had a telephone call with the Ukrainian city’s mayor, Oleksandr Dziouba, she said. During the call, she said she could tell how much her counterpart loves his community and fears that the world will forget Ukraine as it struggles to regain its freedom.

“Having a sister city does something for their spirits,” Graham said during her comments on-stage. “It lets them know that they are not forgotten.”

Other local officials also promised to back efforts to support Sviatohirsk during public comments made between the different performances.

“Our world is not so big after all,” said state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland. “Our actions really can make a difference … To our friends in Ukraine, we will be with you as you rebuild your lives and your cities.”

State Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) praised Ukrainians for “the way you enrich us here in our community,” and called on the audience to remember a definition of heroism offered by the late Tom McCall, the Republican governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975: “He once said, ‘Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better,’” Golden said.

Email freelance reporter Paul R. Huard at

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Bert Etling

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