A musician dubbed the “cellar violinist” has become a social media sensation after performing to comfort fellow Ukrainians in a bomb shelter in the besieged city of Kharkiv.
Images of concert violinist Vera Lytovchenko inspired international audiences after she began by playing a lullaby for a young boy who had taken refuge in the basement of her building.
When the heavy Russian bombardments northeastern town began two weeks ago, Lytovchenko, his professor father and neighbors sought refuge in the basement of their building.
“Bombs can fall anywhere in our city, so we decided to go down to the basement,” says the 39-year-old violinist.
“We are about 12 people now. We have little boys. We have teenagers. We have older women.”
A week into their ordeal, Lytovchenko decided to try to cheer up his cellar mates by organizing small concerts.
“All of these people are my brothers and sisters now,” she said. “I was trying to get them to think about something and not about the war for a few minutes while I was playing.”
She later thought about posting her recitals which included Vivaldi’s soothing strains and even Lytovchenko singing a Russian folk song, on social media. The reaction surprised her as she garnered over 40,000 views on Facebook and thousands more on YouTube.
“I didn’t expect it because I was posting just to reach my friends and family,” Lytovchenko said as she worried about her aunt near Kyiv and other friends in Ukraine.
“A lot of people are texting me saying my videos give them such support and hope.”
“Someone is alive and someone is hopeful and optimistic,” she said.
The classical music community around the world helps Ukraine
Ukrainian musicians have been helped by other players from all over the world during the last two weeks of the invasion.
In one case, Slovenian musicians helped to evacuate members of a Ukrainian youth orchestra. Meanwhile, another initiative has seen violinists around the world join in a digital performance with Ukrainians to help raise funds to help the country.
Before the war, Lytovchenko performed for the Kharkiv Opera Orchestra and taught music lessons.
“It was another life…a normal life,” she said of the pre-war days.
“I’m an orchestra player. I’m a professor at the university. I have my students, I have friends, I give concerts, I play operas and ballets. I play Italian operas in the theatre. “
Describing Ukraine before the war, Lytovchenko said, “We had cultural life in our country, our cities…but now we can’t understand what’s going on.”
Lytovchenko says she hopes her posts can help raise funds for Kharkiv’s music community.
“I dream about my little financial fund, because I received messages from all over the world, from all countries. They texted me, they want to help,” she said.
The violinist wants to help the musicians and rebuild Kharkiv, the music college and the music school, as well as help the musicians who lost their homes and were forced to flee the country.
Lytovchenko said that, as scary as it sounds, playing in the basement to cheer others up has given him new encouragement.
“That’s why I’m making these videos, I’m trying to help, I’m trying to do whatever I can,” she said.
Watch the video above to hear Lytovchenko play