Boston Children's Chorus will honor Ukraine with independence hymn

Members of Boston Children's Chorus. (Courtesy Boston Children's Chorus)
Members of Boston Children's Chorus. (Courtesy Boston Children's Chorus)

Thirteen-year-old Yana Tsibere tries to talk with her grandparents every day.

The pair are in Ukraine, along with Tsibere's aunts, uncles and cousins. They have been there since the start of Russia's invasion.

"My grandma and my grandpa are right now in Kyiv," said Tsibere. "I know my grandma sleeps in a bomb shelter and they have all those, sirens going on, which is scary."

Tsibere moved to the United States in August 2020, during the pandemic. Shortly after, she became a member of Boston's Children Chorus. On Sunday, she and more than 250 other children will sing the patriotic hymn "A Prayer for Ukraine" at BCC's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert. It will be the first time the chorus will be back in Symphony Hall since 2020.

"They know that I'm performing, and because of this, they're staying positive and optimistic because this is one way of sharing what is going on [in Ukraine] to pay attention to the country," Tsibere said.

"A Prayer for Ukraine" was first published in the late 1880s and has long been associated with Ukrainian independence. Choir members have been learning the Ukrainian lyrics in preparation for Sunday's concert.

Boston Children's Chorus last performed at Symphony Hall in January 2020. (Courtesy Boston Children's Chorus)
Boston Children's Chorus last performed at Symphony Hall in January 2020. (Courtesy Boston Children's Chorus)

BCC executive director Andrés Holder says the song was only added to the show's roster recently, but everyone felt it was important to include.

"At this time of incredible grief and incredible trauma being experienced by the people of Ukraine, incredible displacement and horrific acts of violence, it was imperative that we do something at the time where we have a megaphone," said Holder.

Gregory Ghazaryan, 11, has an aunt and good friend who lived in Ukraine; both have since escaped the country. He's Ukrainian and has spoken at Ukrainian rallies in Boston since the Russian invasion began. He worked with BCC to bring "A Prayer for Ukraine" to the annual concert.

Ghazaryan is unable to perform Sunday, but he wants people in Boston to see beyond the images of war they see in Ukraine right now.

"This country is one that was paradise, one that was heaven, basically," said Ghazaryan. "And now, all because of one man who thinks he has all the power and he thinks he is the one in charge ... He's slaughtered them, he's made them leave their home, and now that paradise has been turned into inferno. But they need to understand it was once paradise."

Choir member Sabrina Kogan's grandmother's side of the family is still in Ukraine. She says it's really frustrating to watch the news and see what's happening there.

But, she draws hope from a lyric in "A Prayer for Ukraine"

"It goes 'Bless her with freedom and light,'" said Kogan, 17. "This lyric really resonated with me because we're kind of asking for prayers. This song is obviously spiritual, but prayers from people around the world who don't necessarily believe in religion could still be helpful and give people courage to keep going."

"A Prayer for Ukraine" is one of several songs of hope to be included in Sunday's show. The rest of the songs will all be connected to this year's central topic of "climate emergency." According to Holder, it's been enlightening to watch the children connect Dr. King's work of civil rights with the climate rights movement.

"I think there is a very, very deep and visible connection between what is racial equity and what is environmental equity," said Holder. "And the people that are mostly impacted by the drastic changes in our climate tend to be people that have already been marginalized in other ways."

Boston Children's Chorus performs Sunday, March 27, at Symphony Hall.

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Amanda Beland Senior Producer
Amanda Beland is a producer and director for Radio Boston. She also reports for the WBUR newsroom.



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