When guns talk, the muses fall silent. Ukrainian muses are not silent. Their whispers are louder than enemy salvos and cannonades. Art puts anxiety to sleep and, despite the explosions, the tonality of life sounds like music.
Julia Kovalska is a musician, singing teacher, and vocalist. One of the seven musical notes is present even in her name, which is probably why the music resonates with her. Julia comes from Horodok in the Lviv region, but lives and works in Lviv. Where there is no place for words, there will always be a place for music, and now its craft cures the pain of war. The world is doomed without art. And it’s not just about expressing meanings. Art is also about interaction, where the most excellent skill is sensitivity and care for others.
“Little Stories of a Big War” is a project by Ukrainian Catholic University about Urkainians, their ardent faith, and daily achievements for victory. These are dozens of stories about people who were forced to leave their homes or rescued children from the shelling. These stories are about volunteers and caring people who, united together, hold the line by their efforts.
… women and children are talking loud in the room; dozens of sounds are harmonized by the music that is played throughout the interview.
How has your life changed with the outrage of the (full-scale) war?
This week I had some time off (smiling) without concerts or teaching. Musicians actually lost their jobs, but I realized that everyone has their own weapons and can continue to do what they do. We can preserve the feeling of life that lasts and still exists to protect people’s mental and emotional state. The war will definitely end, and we need healthy Ukrainians, a healthy new generation. We will rebuild Ukraine (smiling). I live with that thought in my mind.
How did your project start?
In the beginning, my acquaintances set up a shelter for refugees. I asked what I could do to help: make dumplings or fry pancakes. In fact, I have already made three hundred dumplings there. A friend of mine who is also my student has her foundation. She said: “Yes, we need food products. But Julia, you can help children with music because they are stressed.”
At first, it was hard to find my place. I shared the idea with my friend Oksana, a Plast (Ukrainian Scout Organization) member. She said: “It’s an excellent idea. I will help to make it happen.” I didn’t know how people would perceive music now. At first, people kept to themselves, especially the adults. But after a few songs, they started crying, and they were emotionally relieved.
The question of music repertoire is crucial: there should be optimistic songs, soulful, and of course they should be in Ukrainian. Now sad lyrical songs are also highly regarded these days. People cannot get rid of what is pressing inside. The first response from an adult was that psychotherapy and art therapy did not help him, but that music opened his heart. It inspired me. This is what I can do – share the good, share the love.
I have been to a refugee shelter several times. I am bringing the message that people here in the western part of Ukraine are ready to share the good, everything they have: money, time, and energy. This must be passed on by baton. People from shelters go further abroad. Therefore, the next message is to come back. Definitely. The war will be over. We need to save everyone’s lives and then rebuild Ukraine. I try to take those that are passionate, to add patriotic songs so that people abroad live with Ukraine in their hearts.
How do you feel when you work?
It depends on who I work with: children or adults. I was in an orphanage with children from Luhansk. I have various emotions, but every time I come back after music therapy (as we agreed to call it), I write to everyone about goodness and love (smiling). It overwhelms me. One can not break a person who has goodness and love inside.
Children are a separate matter. They are like blank sheets of paper, filled only with light. Yesterday a girl wanted to sing the song about the rainbow. She came from Kharkiv, five years old. There is so much joy in her. Some people smiled, and some cried. There is such hope. and faith. It is a very powerful weapon – love.
Internally, I feel calm. I meditate a little and finetune myself because people need me to be balanced and in the right mood, so that I can be useful, and support them. It is emotionally exhausting and recharging at the same time. Nevertheless, my work is now around people, and that’s the most valuable thing.
Everyone can do something for their part because people’s spirit and attitude are essential. The nation’s identity is a powerful component that actually “holds” the territory. We need to protect Ukrainianness, love for ourselves, love for people, and for each other.
How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?
We are a point that accepts people who go further. When we host everyone, we will probably take care of ourselves. This process we are supporting now is very healing.
Yes, my life doesn’t have a schedule now. The days pass weirdly and quickly. It seems not to make any sense, but such small things, thanks to which I can express myself and stand up for my country, are very important.
Calm, optimistic mood: I think that’s the only way we can win, and we will definitely win. We have already won. I have never seen people manifest such goodness and selflessness in all my life. I haven’t lived for a hundred years, but I have lived long enough to see something.
Even the entire year 2014 and Maidan were a small fraction of what is possible. Now the whole nation has risen. It is essential to appreciate this. People here in the western part of Ukraine are doing everything altruistically. No one should feel guilty because they could not stand something or left. We just need to share the good, and it will definitely bring us light.
Is there anyone in your life with whom you broke off contact?
No. Of course, many went abroad. I noticed something that I think is well-known: everyone has positive and negative traits. And in times of stress, in times of war, they are exposed. The one who has been a little stingy becomes extremely stingy. The generous one overfills. People in my life, in general, are volunteers now. Someone left with children. I believe they will return. I have great faith and try to support everyone. And the rest of my friends are all volunteers. Everyone does what they can; what they feel is their strength.
Is there anything you regret? What are you planning?
I haven’t learned to drive. This is a skill I could use now.
I will compose my music. During the war, new emotions accumulate. I will promote Ukrainian even more. For my part, I will do everything in my abilitites to make our state strong and independent in the cultural sphere.
We have strong roots: ours is authentic music that grows and draws from its own origins, then finds its way into different styles. Everything becomes congruent.
Our soul is singing. Music empowers. Our ancient authentic Ukrainian music is a healing force.
Interviewer: Natalia Starepravo
Translator: Andrii Myroshnychenko
Little stories of a Big War in English: https://warinua.ucu.edu.ua/little-stories-of-a-big-war/
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