A Finnish official plays the cello to support Ukraine, irking Russia

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A Finnish official plays the cello to support Ukraine, irking Russia
In an undated image provided by Crista Gronroos, Anders Adlercreutz, Finland’s minister for European affairs. Adlercreutz’s recording of a patriotic Ukrainian song was widely circulated online, and prompted a response from Moscow. (Crista Gronroos via The New York Times)

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- Anders Adlercreutz, Finland’s minister for European affairs, has long been a critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for leading a “crazy war” and calling on Western governments to send tanks to Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.

On Sunday, Adlercreutz tried a different tactic: He posted a video of himself on social media playing a patriotic Ukrainian song on the cello to mark the conflict’s 500th day. The video also shows images of bombed buildings, juxtaposed with phrases such as “unspeakable aggression,” as well as hopeful symbols such as sunflower fields and a dove in flight.

“I wanted to provide comfort to Ukrainians here in Finland and in other countries,” Adlercreutz said in an interview, “and to make clear that they are not ignored, and their culture, their music and their language is not forgotten.”

To his surprise, the video garnered more than 1 million views across a variety of platforms, and he received a flood of comments from Ukrainians moved by the performance.

Russian officials tried to portray the video as part of an effort by Western countries to sway public opinion before a NATO meeting this week that was attended by U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Finland became the alliance’s 31st member state in April, a strategic defeat for Putin.)

In a television appearance this week, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, denounced the NATO meeting as a “colorful performance” that was “in the worst traditions of Western manipulation,” according to Russian news reports. She went on to say that “Finnish government ministers are recording cello solos in support of Ukraine.” Russia has in recent months been highly critical of Finland for joining NATO, saying it has “forfeited its independence.”

The video features the Ukrainian song “The Red Viburnum in the Meadow,” written during World War I, which has long been associated with Ukraine’s fight for independence.

Since the invasion, which began in February 2022, the song has emerged as a popular anthem for the Ukrainian cause. A few days into the war, Ukrainian musician Andriy Khlyvnyuk, from the band Boombox, recorded a defiant rendition with a rifle slung across his chest.

Last year, Pink Floyd released a reworked version of the song, featuring Khlyvnyuk, to raise money for the people of Ukraine, and the band’s first new track in almost three decades.

Since the invasion, Ukrainians have used music to bring attention to suffering, following in a tradition of impromptu performances by ordinary citizens in war zones, in the Balkans, Syria and elsewhere. A cellist last year performed Bach in the center of a deserted street in Kharkiv, with the blown-out windows of the regional police headquarters behind him.

Adlercreutz, who began studying cello at age 11, said he had been inspired by Ukrainian musicians, including Khlyvnyuk. He recorded “The Red Viburnum in the Meadow” in February at the Parliament House in Helsinki, playing different musical lines that he later mixed together.

He said it was important to use culture to bring attention to Ukraine.

“I want to send the message to Ukrainians that we see you, we recognize you, we support you, and we don’t forget where you are coming from and what you are going through,” he said. “We can easily forget the war, but this is a message that we really have to repeat.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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