Ukrainian resistance through song: the mission of a traveling musician

Jenkintown, Pennsylvania and Westfield, New Jersey

Jurij Fedynskyj understands what it means to be displaced. Generations of his family were driven out of Ukraine amid Russian repression that threatened to erase the culture of his homeland.

American-born Fedynskyj moved to Ukraine two decades ago and made it his mission to help revive a Ukrainian tradition of minstrelsy called kobzars. His predecessors roamed eastern Ukraine between 1700 and the 1930s, using lute-like instruments to share folklore and help preserve it.

Considered as cultural elites, the kobzars were mostly wiped out during Josef Stalin’s purges. Mr. Fedynskyj’s mission is one of cultural renewal.

“I am a resource of Ukraine,” he says. He sings songs about Ukrainian history and national identity, as well as religious hymns, evoking national tradition and pride. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, he and some of his students spent three months performing all over the country – in bomb shelters, refugee centers, even near the line of forehead – with snapping shots at close range.

This summer, he toured parts of the United States, performing for members of the Ukrainian diaspora and anyone else who wanted to listen.

After two months in America, he says he felt it was time to return and prepare for a tour of Ukraine’s eastern front. “So I have to do what I have to do,” says Mr Fedynskyj. “Music is not just notes,” he says. “Music is spirit. This is how we defend our country, in spirit.