After leaving Kyiv, Ukrainian woman sings on Chicago-based artist’s song to raise funds in support of her homeland: ‘It unites, it inspires, it helps a lot’
The goal is to encourage groups from all over the nation to record their renditions of the tune and send it to the artist so he can add it to the website to help generate more money for the cause.
Olha Tsvyntarna was sleeping when the first bomb struck the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the morning hours of Feb. 24. She awoke to her husband shouting, “Wake up, wake up our son! Get things packed!”
The threat of a war with Russia had been looming over Ukrainians for some time, but still that moment didn’t feel real. Tsvyntarna, 43, found herself frozen in fear and unable to comprehend what exactly was happening.
Her husband calmly gave her precise instructions on what she needed to do next. Then, he made her a cup of coffee because, she said, he didn’t want his wife to faint if her blood pressure got too low.
Within an hour, Tsvyntarna was in a car with their 17-year-old son and two other families heading west, leaving behind her home and the man she’s loved for the last 20 years – uncertain about the journey that laid ahead.
“He saved us,” Tsvyntarna, now in Chicago, said Tuesday. “I cannot find the words to express how hard it was [to leave him] because this man, I have loved him with all my heart. We’ve been together for 20 years supporting each other, loving each other, and we’ve got a beautiful family. And we had a lot of plans… for our son, for ourselves. We were enjoying a happy life.
“There is a piece of my heart taken away from me, and I really hope I really hope that we’ll meet again and we’ll be together again but I cannot count on that and this is tearing me apart.”
While her husband stayed back to help Ukraine, Tsvyntarna and her son, Dymtro Tsvyntarnyi, spent the next seven days in cars, buses, planes and standing in nearly 12.5-mile lines at the border reaching Chicago, a place they settled on because of their familiarity with the city.
The mother-son duo are currently staying with friends in Ukrainian Village on the city’s West Side with nothing more than a suitcase they split between them.
Being away from home has been a constant struggle for Tsvyntarna. She said she feels unwell; her hands shake as she speaks. She’s been suffering from panic attacks since she’s left.
“But I’m not in a position to whine about my state right now because I know in Ukraine” it could be worse, she said.
Tsvyntarna feels “helpless.” She’s looking for ways to help her homeland, despite being more than 5,000 miles away.
As Tsvyntarna fled the Ukraine, Ira Antelis, a Chicago-based artist, watched the Russian invasion unfold on the news. He felt “wracked” and “powerless.” But he also felt an “urgency to do something,” and turned to music.
“Whether you go back to ‘We Are The World’ or things like that, [songs are] just very powerful things,” said Antelis, who composed “We Sing for Ukraine.”
Tsvyntarna, who was connected to Antelis through a mutual acquaintance, was one of five Ukrainians who joined 15 other local artists in recording “We Sing for Ukraine,” which was produced Monday night at Audio Tree Recording Studio in Bucktown. The song, dropping Tuesday evening, will cost $1 per download, with all proceeds going to Abundance International, an organization that helps support orphanages in Ukraine.
Antelis said producing the song was an emotional experience.
“There [were] a lot of tears... You put yourself in their shoes, you think, ‘Oh my God, like this woman a week ago was in a house, with a kid, and it’s all gone,’” said Antelis, whose goal is to have groups from all over record their renditions of the tune and send it to him so he can add it to the website to help generate more money for the cause.
“To hear [Tsvyntarna] sing it was ... very moving. And hopefully we can start a little movement to just help in anyway we can.”
Tsvyntarna said people at the studio offered their support and help after recording song.
“It unites, it inspires, it helps a lot,” she said. “We feel like we are not abandoned... we have friends, we have support.”