How a Student from Kyiv Is Coping with the War in Ukraine

Berklee student Valeriia Shemiatkina talks about music’s critical role in helping Ukrainians stay hopeful in this tragic time of fear and deep uncertainty.

March 15, 2022
Valeriia Shemiatkina

Valeriia Shemiatkina

Valeriia Shemiatkina is a second-semester music business student who plays piano, sings, and writes songs. However, she hasn’t been able to do any of those things lately because her mind is preoccupied with the conflict in Ukraine. A native of Kyiv, she is heartbroken and worried about the safety of her parents, three sisters, brother, and her large extended family. She speaks to her family every day and, so far, they are safe. Her female relatives have fled the country while the men have remained behind. 

After co-organizing a rally on campus last month to bring awareness to the conflict, Shemiatkina joined other students to sing the Ukrainian national anthem at a benefit concert held on March 11. In addition to her goal to manage musicians after graduating, she's planning to return to Ukraine to help others get an education and maybe even open a school.

We talked to Shemiatkina about how she’s managing school in the midst of this crisis and the role music is playing in inspiring Ukrainians during this overwhelming time of stress and uncertainty. 

What is it like being here in the United States while war is raging in your homeland? 

I feel absolutely terrible and each day it is getting worse. I can’t study. The things that took me an hour to do before, now take me six hours to do. I’m trying to do whatever I can do here to bring awareness to what is going on in Ukraine. I would like to thank everyone who came out to support us on campus during our walk. It meant a lot to all of us.

There are less than a dozen Ukrainian students at Berklee. What can we do to help the Berklee students as well as the people of Ukraine?

I feel like many students don’t really know what is actually going on in Ukraine and what Russia is doing to my people. I don’t know how much we can do here except continue to talk about it and spread awareness. If people have questions, they can ask me, and I will explain what’s really going on.

Most Americans have not been to Ukraine and only know what they are reading, hearing, and watching online. What do you want people to know about Ukraine?

I want people to know that our people are the greatest. They are kind even to Russian soldiers who are not kind to us…. Our people are just incredible and everybody is just trying to help each other by delivering food to people who can’t get any or delivering clothes to those who need it, including newborn babies. People are so supportive and we’re working together, and I’m kind of sorry I’m not there to help. I’ve been crying a lot.

...[S]ongs are helping people get through this. They remind people of how it was before and how it will be, so they don’t lose hope.

Valeriia Shemiatkina

Can you describe the music in Ukraine and what inspired you to want to be a musician?

We listen to a lot of folk music that is blended with modern music. Some artists take old songs and add modern instruments to it. One of my favorite artists is Odyn V Kanoe. She went to Harvard and her voice sounds just like the wind, the land, or trees. She doesn’t need to say words to let people know what she’s singing about, and her talent inspires me. 

What songs do you think your fellow Ukrainians are listening to during the conflict and why?

I know they are listening to and singing our national anthem, now more than ever, because people are terrified. There’s another song called "Apta," which is very popular. It’s about winning the war and it helps people deal with all the horrible things going on in the streets. Those songs are helping people get through this. They remind people of how it was before and how it will be, so they don’t lose hope.

You sang the Ukrainian national anthem at a recent benefit concert. What did it mean to you to perform it?

I am unable to help my people in Ukraine physically, but I can help them deal with everything they have to go through by sharing information with people here in America and showing how beautiful and strong Ukraine is. The national anthem describes and represents the Ukrainian spirit in the best way, so I am honored to sing it here [at] Berklee and tell people our story.

Watch: The Ukrainian national anthem, performed and arranged by Berklee students: