A top harpist from Ukraine will make an emotional appeal at a North Wales music festival asking people to donate money to her war-torn homeland.
Virtuosa Veronika Leminshenko will be performing virtually at the Wales Harp Festival at Galeri Caernarfon and will be interviewed live over a video link by the event’s artistic director, the acclaimed harpist, Elinor Bennet
She organised her fundraising tour at breakneck speed after quitting her job in in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg where she was working with the orchestra when President Putin ordered his troops to invade her homeland.
Veronika was lucky to escape while many fellow Ukrainians were detained or arrested but she managed to reach the airport and board a flight after two other planes were cancelled.
Her parents Alla and Yuri and her brother, Maksym, decamped to the west Ukraine city of Lviv from their home city of Kharkiv which has been pulverised by intensive Russian shelling.
Other family members, close friends and musical associates are sheltering in basements, struggling to find food and resources amid Putin’s ruthless onslaught in Ukraine.
Veronika, 33, has performed at the Wales Harp Festival on previous occasions, always as a representative of Ukraine, including one not long after Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014 when she defiantly wore Ukrainian national costume for her performance.
This year’s festival will be staged at Galeri April 12-13. It combines concerts with master classes and workshops, offering harpists of all ages and abilities the opportunity to learn from some of the best performers in the world.
Veronika had originally hoped to re-visit Wales to play in person but difficulties obtaining travel documents mean she is unlikely to get here in time.
Instead, organisers have arranged for her to pre-record a concert in Paris which will be screened during the festival ahead of the live interview.
Elinor and her husband, Dafydd Wigley, have offered to open their home as a safe haven for members of Veronika’s family but are struggling to secure the appropriate paperwork.
Mr Wigley is now urging the government to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to reach the UK.
Elinor said she is heartbroken about the desperate and cruel plight faced by her friend Veronika and compatriots.
She said: “We are doing anything we can to help Veronika. She is such a courageous force for good. Her actions have been amazing from the moment Putin’s violent aggression began. The situation in Ukraine is beyond belief, so many people have been left homeless and bereft by this barbarous, inhuman dictator.”
Veronika is currently busily touring key European cities including in Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, Germany and France.
In each destination she has staged concerts and held harp masterclasses as a way of fundraising to support destitute victims of the Russian invasion.
At the close of each concert, she appeals for the world to help Ukraine. She has also posted an online video appeal at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXuuEEpBASY)
She has set up the Veronika Leminshenko Charity Foundation in co-operation with the Glowing Harp festival which she had previously established in Kharkiv.
To date she has raised seven thousand Euros while friends and colleagues from the harp playing community have raised a further five thousand Euros.
Each day she focuses hard on further ways of raising awareness and funds, while also worrying about her family members living in danger in Lviv and Kharkiv.
Between concerts she hopes to return to Ukraine to see her parents in Lviv.
She said: “I think about my family every moment and try to speak to them and to my friends who are in Ukraine or were forced to leave the country every day.
“The world needs to know that these atrocities are happening right now in the 21st century, people are senselessly dying in front of our eyes and we need to do everything possible to stop this monstrous aggression.”
Her boyfriend, a conductor and violinist, and their pet dog also escaped from Yekaterinburg after the invasion.
He cannot currently return to Russia without risking his freedom as he took part in protests against the invasion.
Before the war Veronika had been planning, via her Glowing Harp organisation (glowingharp-ukraine.com), to put on a harp festival in Kharkiv this April, organised together with her first harp teacher Larysa Klievtsova – a plan which has now had to be abandoned. But she hopes she may soon be able to perform in Lviv when she visits her parents.
According to Veronika she has had support from harpists across the world, helping with all the organisation. Veronika’s Charity Foundation and harp associations in different countries are helping young Ukrainian harpist to continue their professional education in the Czech Republic, Poland, France and Germany.
She has also had support from members of the Kyiv National Symphony Orchestra which is going on tours despite the fact that some of the Ukrainian musicians have been seconded to assist in the country’s defence efforts.
Further backing has come from famed French harp makers Camac. The company is letting Veronika use its Paris studio to record her performance for screening at the Wales Harp Festival. She will play three Ukrainian compositions, Dumka (Contemplation) by Vasyl Barvinsky; Memory by Myroslav Skoryk; and Souvenir by her close friend and Glowing Harp composer-in-residence Evgen Andreev.
This year is the first time since 2019 that the festival has been able to stage a live concert. The Covid-19 pandemic forced its cancellation two years ago and compelled it to become a virtual event in 2021.
The finale will see brilliant young harpist Gwenllian Llyr play her own arrangement of a Welsh hymn tune, plus music created by Mared Emlyn. Up and coming jazz harpist Benjamin Creighton-Griffiths will also appear with his band, the Transatlantic Hot Club.
Organised by Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (CGWM) since 1999, the Wales Harp Festival is now held annually and has also spawned the International Harp festival which is held every four years and which is due to be staged once again in 2023.
The theme for this year’s event is Inspire, Heal, Renew!
Elinor said: “The theme was meant to be one of positivity as we negotiate a way forward out of the pandemic, but with the most tragic irony the world is now facing this terrible war.
“Veronika and her compatriots are symbols of light in this awful darkness, working heroically to defeat the tyranny that is enveloping them and their families.
“She is among the world’s most accomplished young harpists and given all that she is enduring we feel deeply privileged to be able to include her performance at the festival.
“I implore people to watch and celebrate her efforts and get behind her foundation.”