While air raid sirens blare and bombs explode in faraway Ukraine, a Twin Cities band is filling the local air waves with music to raise money for the victims of that bloody war with Russia.

Founded in 2007 as a party or “zabava” band specializing in Ukrainian folk music, the Ukrainian Village Band ceased all public performances after the war broke out in February. The sextet reasoned that this was not the time for celebration. But as the requests piled up to perform and raise money for Ukrainian relief, they relented.

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The Ukrainian Village Band in their traditional garb: (clockwise from left) Lev Frayman, Emily Judge-Becker, Oleksiy Khrystych, Viktoriya Kantor, Ivas Bryn and, in front, Stefan Iwaskewycz.

The Ukrainian Village Band is now donating performance fees and cover charges to organizations that provide relief to injured soldiers and civilian refugees in Ukraine. To date, the band has raised $50,000, with many more gigs planned throughout the summer.

One of those gigs will be from 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, June 12, in the beer garden at Waldmann Brewery, 445 S. Smith Ave. Twin Cities accordionist Dan Newton and the local country band Ledfoot Larry will open the show. Tickets are $30, and proceeds will benefit Revived Soldiers Ukraine, an Orlando-based charity that provides medical and rehabilitation services to injured Ukrainian soldiers.

Five of the six members of the Ukrainian Village Band are Ukrainian-American. Some have close relatives and friends in Ukraine and are concerned for their safety. Accordionist and vocalist Oleksiy Khrystych worries about his parents, cousins, aunts and uncles in central Ukraine. “Rockets flew over my hometown, where the target was the military base,” he said.

Waldmann proprietor Tom Schroeder has raised more than $12,000 for Ukrainian relief in his own right through a buy-one-get-one beer promotion. As a public benefit corporation, Waldmann raises funds for a variety of causes. Schroeder chose Ukrainian war relief because “we’re horrified and deeply saddened by the Russian assault on Ukraine,” he said. “We grieve for the besieged citizens of Kyiv and other cities and express our support for the Ukrain­ian-American community in Minnesota.”

Five of the six members of the Ukrainian Village Band are Ukrainian-American. Some have close relatives and friends in Ukraine and are concerned for their safety.

 

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Accordionist and vocalist Oleksiy Khrystych worries about his parents, cousins, aunts and uncles in central Ukraine. “Rockets flew over my hometown, where the target was the military base,” he said.

Khrystych is a founding member of the band, which primarily plays at weddings, private parties and festivals. “We did 90 percent folk music at first and then added more rock and modern music,” he said.

“All Ukrainian songs are about love–for each other, family and the homeland,” said Lev Frayman, an acoustic guitarist with the band. “We try to take people on a musical tour. We do a couple of patriotic songs that are relevant today. Many songs are polkas that people dance to. We’ve played more in the last few months than ever before. It has been therapeutic for the mental trauma we are dealing with here.”

The band sings in Ukrainian dialects as well as Italian and English, according to violinist Emily Judge-Becker. Although she was trained in classical music, Judge-Becker was drawn to the lively harmonies and rhythms of traditional Ukrainian music. “The first time I saw the Ukrainian Village Band in concert, I danced so hard I tore a leg muscle,” she said.

A resident of Saint Paul, Judge-Becker is the only member of the band who is not of Ukrainian descent. However, since joining the band three years ago, she has learned a great deal about Ukraine and now counts other band members and their families as among her closest friends. “The whole Ukrainian-Minnesota community has welcomed me as an honorary member,” she said.

When performing, Judge-Becker dresses in traditional Ukrainian garb. She has even learned a little of the Ukrainian language. Judge-Becker has been especially moved by the outpouring of support for Ukraine from people both within and outside of the Ukrainian-American community. “So far the rewards, both financial and otherwise, have been beyond anything we could’ve imagined,” she said. “We’re booked for fundraisers all the way into autumn.”

Food and beverages from Waldmann’s menu will be available during the June 12 benefit. The space for dancing will be limited, Schroeder said, but he won’t stop anyone from trying. For tickets, visit waldmannbrewery.com.

— Carolyn Walkup

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