They gather every Friday evening in the parish hall of the Evangelical Bonhoeffer Church in the Westhagen district of Wolfsburg: about 15 Ukrainian women, their children and a few men. Together they sing Ukrainian songs here.
Chorus as a meeting point: chatting, singing and drinking coffee
Choir director Paul Chapin sits at the piano. The smiling, friendly man in black glasses had the idea of the chorus. He was born in Ukraine and has been living in Germany for nearly 30 years. He wanted to give his countrymen a chance to think differently so that their new start at Wolfsburg would not be too difficult for them. “I’ve noticed that people have to find a sense of security somehow,” Chapin says. “You are immersed in another country, in another culture. With a foreign language, foreign culture and foreign people. Here we can just chat a little, sing songs and drink coffee.”
Being together, we do not feel lonely, they make music together in the language of the homeland – the conductor of the choir has long known the healing power of society and music. “Especially in difficult times, music simply distracts from all worries,” Chapin says. “Music is good for the soul, it creates an echo. Words are combined with good meaning, with good wishes for Ukraine. The heart opens. You can say: this is a healing meditation.”
Rich to bear sorrow
The participants encountered horrific things. Like Lilia from Kyiv. For weeks, the 50-year-old hid from Russian airstrikes in the basements of skyscrapers. She and her nine-year-old daughter managed to escape to Poland from the advancing Russian army, in one of the last buses from Kyiv. Her husband stayed behind and is now fighting at the front in the east.
In the end, strangers took Lilia and her daughter to Wolfsburg. There the teacher heard about the Ukrainian choir and went there. Singing helps her cope with grief better. “What is happening to us? Why do we have to flee our home? What happened anyway?” Lilia asks. What is currently happening in Ukraine is simply incomprehensible.
Escaped from the Russian army – again
Natalia also finds comfort in the songs of her homeland. The 38-year-old cobbler and chef is originally from Donbass, the besieged region in eastern Ukraine. In 2014 she fled Donetsk before the Russian army. She had to flee from Zhytomyr again – again due to Russian aggression. “I am a religious person,” Natalia says. “I especially love songs that praise God. It means a lot to me. Because I think he guides us through this difficult time.”
And her meeting with Paul Chapin, conductor from Wolfsburg, is proof of this. She knows him since her childhood in the Donbass. By chance, the paths of the two peoples crossed again. Natalia read Paul Chapin’s ad on social media, in which he offered refugees a place to sleep. For a mother of two as well as a choir director, this seems like a coincidence. “I used to conduct an orchestra in Donetsk,” Chaban says. “And as a little girl, she sang to me. In an orchestra with a choir. She also sang there alone. That was 30 years ago!”
“Everything is left in Ukraine”
18-year-old Zlata visits the Ukrainian choir in Wolfsburg with her mother every Friday. The economics student comes from Odessa, a beautiful coastal city in southern Ukraine. All her friends are still there, as there is a constant missile alert as Odessa is being bombarded with missiles by Russian warships in the Black Sea.
At some point, Zlata and her sick mother could no longer stand the fear and constant sirens. Weeks ago they packed some things, took their little dog and left Odessa. “We had to leave everything behind – our apartment, our friends, our jobs,” Zlata says. “Everything remains in Ukraine and there is nothing we can do. All we can do is pray.” After a day’s journey through several countries, Zlata and her mother ended up in Wolfsburg – and like others, they came across the choir in one form or another.
“We want to hear our songs away from home”
“To be honest, I’ve never sung in a choir before,” says the young woman. “I love music, but I usually only sing in the shower. But away from home, we want to hear our language, our songs. This welds us together. That is why it is so great that we can make such beautiful music together here in this community hall” .
The choir sounds so good that it has already given its first performances in Wolfsburg.