ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Concert fundraiser puts Ashland’s Ukrainian Sister City center stage

The Kalinonka Ukrainian folk troupe. Betsy Bishop photo
December 11, 2023

Organizers dub event a success, call on community not to forget the Ukrainian people

By Paul R. Huard for Ashland.news

A concert charity event Sunday for Ashland’s sister city of Sviatohirsk was a rousing success, raising both money and awareness for the beleaguered Ukrainian community, organizers said.

About 200 people attended the fundraiser at the Historic Ashland Armory, said Betsy Bishop, a member of the Ashland-Sviatohirsk Aid Project (ASAP) committee. They heard music from local performers and a Broadway star, as well as brief comments from members of the sister city organization who had visited or volunteered in Ukraine since Russia mounted its war of aggression against the nation in 2022.

Although they are still counting receipts, as of Monday afternoon about $13,000 had been raised through a combination of cash donations, auction items, and ticket sales, Bishop estimated.

“We had a smart, involved audience that understands what’s at stake,” Bishop said during a telephone interview. “People ‘get it’ and they want to help.”

Money from the event will go toward several projects the sister-city program supports for war-ravaged Sviatohirsk, ranging from additional support for work replacing broken residential windows to purchasing machinery that produces wooden pellets for heating stoves to trucks with lift-booms that can assist in repairing the local power grid.

Members of the Ashland High School choir performed Sunday as part of the gala fundraiser for Sviatohirsk, Ukraine. Betsy Bishop photo

The goal is to make it possible for Ukrainians to return to homes fit to live in, said Jim Nagel, president of ASAP.

“I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a number of Ukrainians that are here as refugees and they all express the same interest, ‘We want to go back to our home,’” Nagel said during an interview Sunday. “And we want to help make those homes livable.”

Fundraisers are essential to the success of the sister city program’s efforts to help Sviatohirsk, organizers say. No taxpayer money is used to fund the projects.

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 hopes there 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 and only 30 miles from the war’s current front line.

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.

Broadway actress, dancer, and singer Steffanie Garrard Leigh, who performed at Sunday’s benefit event. Betsy Bishop photo

The result is the largest war on the European continent since World War II, displacing 14 million Ukrainians, destroying many Ukrainian cities, and provoking 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 occupation of Sviatohirsk.

Seventy percent of Sviatohirsk has been destroyed because of Russian attacks. Ben Stott, the vice president of ASAP, told audience members during a brief speech illustrated with photos that he hoped the event will turn public attention back to the war in Ukraine.

“In this country, we have a short attention span,” said Stott, who has twice volunteered in Ukraine as a humanitarian relief worker. “What goes on in Ukraine is going to affect our history for the next generation.”

Performers included the Ashland Peace Choir; the Ashland High School Choir; Iryna Kudielina, award-winning Ukrainian concert pianist; Kris Yenney, cellist, composer, and conductor; and the Kalinonka Ukrainian folk troupe.

Broadway singing star and Ashland High School graduate Steffanie Garrard Leigh also performed, singing show tunes and a medley of songs from “Mary Poppins,” a Broadway production that launched her to stardom.

“Ashland is truly a special place, and I hope you all know that it holds a special place in my heart,” Leigh told the audience.

Ashland High School teacher and Ashland.news freelance reporter Paul Huard volunteered this summer in Ukraine. To read his dispatches from Ukraine, click here. Huard was one of the organizers of Sunday’s fundraiser. Email Huard at paulrhuard@gmail.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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