The Sounds of Ukraine in St. Pete

This September, a group of 30 female musicians flew from Ukraine to Tampa for a Florida tour to donate its profits to humanitarian causes in Ukraine. They are the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a nonprofit, Ukraine-based spiritual group that is touring the Sunshine State as part of their Southeastern United States tour. They often travel to raise money through spiritual concerts, and their members are graduates of the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Several host churches are on the list, including St. Pete’s First Presbyterian Church at 701 Beach Drive.

The Ukrainian group normally consists of 52 members, but they are leave behind their male counterparts. Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country in anticipation that they may be called to fight against Russia’s invasion.

Kyiv Orchestra Conductor Viktoriya Konchakovskaya says she feels it’s her responsibility to do what she can for her country. “We are the faces of Ukraine, and if we can help, it’s our responsibility, and a significant one,” Konchakovskaya said. “It’s heartening to feel how we can go and receive support from the people who understand us.”

The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus is a Ukraine-based spiritual group coming to First Presbyterian Church. Photo courtesy of Elza Zherebchuk

For many of the Kyiv Symphony musicians, this isn’t just their first time in the Sunshine State – it’s their first time in America. And the journey was not easy. They left their homes in Ukraine and took a 19-hour train ride to Poland, where they waited five days to obtain appropriate visas, and then boarded a trans-Atlantic flight to Florida.

The concerts feature a mix of religious classics and traditional Ukrainian music, with the musicians adorned in sacred Ukrainian clothing. Without the group’s male voices to support them, their program sounds significantly different from their performances in Ukraine.

Ukrainian-born soprano and chorus member Maryna Zubko lives her day-to-day life in Kyiv. “My hometown is not a safe place, but I know I’m in the right place,” Zubko said. “I want to be where I can be useful and support my people by doing what I love.”

Matt Clear, director of Traditional Worship Music and the Arts at First Presbyterian Church, says the Kyiv concert is not the typical programming the church sees, but he’s overjoyed to be involved with their mission.

The concert will feature a mix of religious classics and traditional Ukrainian music with the musicians adorned in sacred Ukrainian clothing. Photo courtesy of The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

“We’re happy to be part of their contribution to freedom,” Clear said. “When I first heard about their mission, I was a little hesitant due to the scale of this undertaking. But the more I learned, the more we wanted to be involved.”

The 1,200-seat church was the orchestra’s second stop on their Florida tour. They provided lodging and dinner for the group members. One hundred percent of the funds generated from the concert tour benefit a humanitarian aid mission for widows, orphans, and war victims.

“When we see news on television or read articles about the atrocities taking place in Ukraine, I think we all feel somewhat powerless and ill-equipped to help the impacted people,” he said. “I believe this concert-mission project creates a tangible way that we can provide assistance through the power of music and the humanitarian aid these funds provide.”

“We know how much God loves Ukraine,” Konchakovskaya said. “So, we believe they will bless us.”