Educational outreach, Ukrainian-themed violin making and international musical communication are just some of the ways the luthier is promoting peace and connection during difficult times

Violin Glory to Heroes and Zino Bogachek at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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The situation in Ukraine remains challenging and distressing. The ongoing struggle for survival, the toll it’s taking on safety and well-being of the innocent people is truly desolating.

The economic strain, coupled with the security threats and constant reminders of the war impact, is incredibly difficult to endure. Many Ukrainian families have members serving in the military, sacrificing their lives to protect our nation’s sovereignty.

The loss of civilian lives and the daily funerals of the military personnel reflect the devastating impact of war on the people of Ukraine. The uncertainty and the constant threat of attacks create an environment of fear and instability.

Harsh and unembellished brutality of war

War brings forth immense suffering, destruction, and loss, affecting countless lives in profound and most often irreversible ways. Everything has changed, we are all very different people by now. Our fighters returning from the front lines are profoundly changed, both physically and mentally, and the same is happening to the civilians, living further from the war zones. Most civilians have developed post-traumatic syndrome by now. You cannot prepare or protect yourself from this, you just simply try to get by for as long as you can.

We do not have any officially confirmed data on the number of losses sustained by the Ukrainian military forces. However, military funerals are held daily. Military draft is also taking place every day and in large numbers. There is probably not a single Ukrainian family left without a representative that does not protect our country borders.

Three out of four male members of our family are either defending our country with weapons in their hands or have already been wounded and are no longer physically able to perform combat duties.

To be more specific, my cousin Yaroslav saved many military and civilian lives in the battles near the city of Bakhmut as a military medic. After sustaining multiple injuries, he was recently honorably discharged. Another of my cousins, Taras, received an award from the president ’For Courage’ after shooting down a massive rocket aimed at the city of Lviv.

However, we have many men in our extended family who irreparably lost their health in the struggle for the liberation of Ukraine. These are severe injuries, amputated hands, and loss of sight and hearing. Their lives will never be the same.

Tragically, the fiancé of my cousin Nadiya Magdyak, Serhiy Misevych, heroically died on a battlefield. This is a great loss from which it is impossible to recover. It is worth mentioning, that in the digital edition of The Strad magazine article from March 2018, the embroidered picture ‘The Cellist’ was created by Nadiya’s mother.

The sacrifice of our military personnel is receiving considerable attention. With the aim of commemoration and patriotic education of students, every morning at 9:00 a.m., a nationwide moment of silence is being held, where all the citizens, children and teachers honour the fallen heroes who, at the cost of their lives, gave us all the opportunity to live. 

Resilience and Hope

As expected, life in Ukraine is becoming more difficult every day. Despite all that, my family has decided to remain in Ukraine indefinitely. My wife Nataliia has entered post-doctoral studies and presented her scholarly monograph. My daughter Dominica entered the Academic Gymnasium and is currently a 6th-year student here in Lviv. My son Damian is registered as a potential military conscript and I’m registered as a military reserve as well.

Damian is 17 years old, and is currently preparing for his state multidisciplinary exams. Exam-taking is not an easy task for all Ukrainian schoolchildren. During the previous exam campaign of 2023, approximately half of the exam takers spent time in bomb shelters due to air attacks.

school bomb shelter in lviv

A school bomb shelter in Lviv

On a positive note, we feel like we are not alone. There is a chain of people worldwide who support our morale and express their solidarity. Emily Rome from the US initiated a video meeting for both of my children, thus facilitating the dialogue between Ukrainian schoolchildren and the fourth-graders from Rockrimmon Elementary School. Together with her like-minded friends, Emily is also contributing to the needs of Ukrainian victims.

Along with foreigners, local contributors do their best for the common goal, cultural sphere included. Concerts and festivals are still being held in Lviv. Most cultural events are organised to raise funds for the needs of the military. Even though a military tax has been introduced in the country and deductions are made from the salaries of every Ukrainian for the war effort, additional measures to collect donations do not stop. Every school in Lviv holds fairs to collect funds medical equipment for the military units. Students and their parents are involved in such activities at least once in a couple of months. Lviv schools often join in preparing food for the front lines. Together with volunteer organisations, school teachers and parents of students prepare meals in school kitchens, freeze them and send them directly to the trenches…

The work of overcoming stress among schoolchildren has also become an integral part of the work of educators. Teachers are receiving specialised training, targeting working with children in war conditions, overcoming psychological stress in the classroom, as well as psychological self-help skills. This year, Lviv schools returned to face-to-face learning and the stress of children became even more evident. To improve the situation in schools, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education is becoming popular. Such STEAM lessons help diversify learning and involve disciplines that were not taught before, and also distract children from the school routine.

STEAM lesson

Children in a STEAM lesson

I had the pleasure of conducting one of such lessons at Lviv Secondary School. In the English language class, students gained additional knowledge about the art of violin making, specific terminology was introduced in both Ukrainian and English. They learned how to use measuring devices, and one of the practical tasks involved creating a Certificate of Authenticity for a specific violin made by me in 2022 with the inscription ’WAR’ on the label.

A couple of months later, quite by chance, the very same violin that took part in STEAM lesson, helped another talented Ukrainian child from Khmelnytskyi. Thus, the young violinist Sofia Zulfikar (13 years old) had the opportunity to attend master classes in Cremona and take part in the 2023 Cremona International Competition for STRINGS. This was to be Sofia’s first live participation in competition and she wanted to represent Ukraine in the best possible way, but, unfortunately, Sofia’s violin was lacking, to say the least. We were able to arrange a meeting in my workshop, and, as a result, Sofia chose the above mentioned violin (War, 2022). It was loaned to her for the purpose of participation in the competition. As a result, she became a 2nd prize winner in Cremona Competition in her respective age category. Nowadays, Sofia is a student of Andriy Murza in Dusseldorf.

Orest Putsentela and Sofia Zulfikar at Putsentelas Violin Studio workshop

Orest Putsentela and Sofia Zulfikar at Putsentelas Violin Studio workshop

Andriy Murza also happened to be our client. Our roads crossed a couple of years ago. Violinist, Andriy Murza is also the founder and artistic director of Odesa International Violin Competition. My family sponsored the Odesa International Violin Competition in 2021 and the violin made by my parents, Myroslav and Natalia Putsentela, was the main prize of the competition. Dmytro Udovychenko became a winner, and the violin is now in his hands.

I must mention here that Odesa-born Andriy Murza and his wife, the well-known conductor Lviv-born Oksana Lyniv, are making great efforts for Ukrainian youth in these difficult times by organizing master classes and concerts for the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine all over Europe. The orchestra includes the best young talented musicians from every part of Ukraine. In addition to professional growth, our children get the opportunity to live without constant fear of air raids during orchestra projects in peaceful Europe.

Promoting Awareness and Connection

When you are balancing on the fine line between life and death, there is a desire to implement long-anticipated projects.

In my case, two of my latest violins became such a project. A few years back, I read an article in The Strad magazine that demonstrated a special inlay technique on the back of the violin in the style of the old Brescian masters. I had always put off such project, but with the start of the BIG war I had a clear vision of exactly what should be inlaid on the back plate along with the double purfling. This is exactly what is embroidered in a soul of every Ukrainian.


The Ukrainian tridents inlaid on the back plate of the violins, with double purfling

Thus, two violins with the coat of arms of Ukraine – the tridents - were created. The time for the production of these violins was particularly difficult (winter-spring 2022-2023). There was no electricity for 12 hours a day and it was bitterly cold in the workshop, but these are trifles compared to what our defenders felt in the trenches on the front line. I have never given names to my instruments, because the name of the violin must be identical to the surname of its owner. However, this time I broke the rule because these violins are made in honour of Ukrainian Heroes and the names of the violins will be identical to our official military salute: ’Glory to Ukraine!’ and ’Glory to Heroes!’

glory to ukraine

Putsentela’s ’Glory to Ukraine!’ violin

glory to heroes

Putsentela’s ’Glory to Heroes!’ violin

At the first opportunity, a few weeks ago, these two violins went to the US to my friend, the wonderful violinist/violist and fantastic composer originating from Lviv, Zino Bogachek. Despite the heavy workload, Zino and his wife Natasha, both musicians at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, do everything they can to find time for many charity concerts in support of Ukraine and Doctors Without Borders in Greater Washington D.C. area. Together with their friends, they are helping our family to survive. We would like to extend our special thanks to master bow-maker Maestro Benoît Rolland, The Benjamin Farren family, Laura Willumsen, Elizabeth and Drew Owen, Olena Labrecque, Don Neal, Bennet Lavenstein, Neeta Helms, Classical Movements, Blue Heart Travel Inc., Dr. Evgeniy Dovgalyuk among many others.

Zino and Natasha Bogachek at Putsentelas Violin Studio workshop

Zino and Natasha Bogachek at Putsentelas Violin Studio workshop

Zino Bogachek also wrote a piece for a string quartet, dedicated to the memory of the people who died and, unfortunately, will die in an ongoing war in our country. It was performed for the first time on the 30 April 2023 in a fundraiser concert organised by Neeta Helms (Classical Movements), the funds were donated to the Doctors Without Borders organisation. I am certain that Zino Bogachek will do his best to make sure that these violins fall into good hands and continue to glorify Ukrainian Heroes through music. Now, both violins will have a chance to sing with a Ukrainian voice.

Music must be played, life must go on, and victory must be ours!

All images courtesy Orest Putsentela

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