Home / News / A Finnish Official Plays the Cello to Support Ukraine, Irking Russia

A Finnish Official Plays the Cello to Support Ukraine, Irking Russia

Aug 22, 2023Aug 22, 2023


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Anders Adlercreutz’s recording of a patriotic Ukrainian song was widely circulated online, and prompted a response from Moscow.

By Javier C. Hernández

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

On Sunday, Mr. 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 like “unspeakable aggression,” as well as hopeful symbols like sunflower fields and a dove in flight.

500 days of unprovoked aggression, countless war crimes, lost futures - but also of encouraging success. Ukraine fights for its independence, but also for Europe’s. Finland stands by you, today and tomorrow.В пам'ять про тих, хто віддав своє життя за свободу.

“I wanted to provide comfort to Ukrainians here in Finland and in other countries,” Mr. 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 a 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 ahead of a NATO meeting this week that was attended by President Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. (Finland became the alliance’s 31st member state in April, a strategic defeat for Mr. Putin.)

In a television appearance this week, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman 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, the song has emerged as a popular anthem for the Ukrainian cause. A few days into the war, the 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 Mr. Khlyvnyuk, to raise money for the people of Ukraine, its 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.

Mr. Adlercreutz, who began studying cello as an 11-year-old, said he had been inspired by Ukrainian musicians, including Mr. 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.”

Javier C. Hernández is a culture reporter, covering the world of classical music and dance in New York City and beyond. He joined The Times in 2008 and previously worked as a correspondent in Beijing and New York. More about Javier C. Hernández