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The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance performers and the Jewish Family Services (JFS) presented a benefit concert for Ukraine at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor on Sunday. Approximately 200 community members attended the concert to raise money to donate to Razom, a non-profit organization dedicated to buying medical supplies, and to JFS, who are offering immigration services to Michigan families with relatives in Ukraine.  

On Feb. 24, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, leading to mass casualties, a refugee crisis and destruction of property. 

Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Sasha Gusikhin and University alum Valentin Kovalev, a classical saxophonist, led the effort to set up, organize and market the event. 

Gusikhin said as a Russian-American, she felt it was important to do everything she could to help those being affected by the war. Gusikhin said her experience working as a Soprano Section Leader at the First Presbyerian Church inspired her to host a benefit concert. 

“I think music creates a form of connection, especially through a concert, and is one of most effective ways to coordinate, unite and mobilize people,” Gusikhin said. “I was so thrilled to see the turnout and just to see our Ann Arbor community coming together and supporting us. I’m so grateful for everybody who came out.”

The event started with a rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem, which was followed by organ, cello, violin and piano performances. The program also included pieces arranged by Ukrainian composers such as Holosinnya by Stanyslav Lyudkevych and Chervona Ruta by Volodymyr Ivasiuk.

Ken Fischer, President Emeritus of the University Musical Society, emceed the event and explained the importance of community-level action during times of crisis.

“In response to this humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, we as a community are committed to delivering our support to those affected by this devastating war,” Fischer said. 

Mira Sussman, JFS Refugee Resource Development Manager, spoke at the event and said that as many religions approach major holidays, now is the time for giving to the less fortunate.  

“We are entering a holy season,” Sussman said. “For Christians, it is preparing for Good Friday and Easter. We Jews are preparing for Passover and we are also in the holy month of Ramadan for the Muslim community. This is a time of great spirituality and our hearts are open to change and generosity. We hope and we pray in all of our languages for peace and calm and an end to war. It will take people from all walks of life to repair this world. Shukran. Toda. Thank you.”

Irene Watts, director of Corporate Relations at Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee and first-generation Ukrainian-American, said she has cousins who are currently fighting the war in Ukraine. 

Watts said medical backpacks — which include a tourniquet, a vented chest seal to treat wounds and Celox, a hemostatic blood-clotting agent for the price of $90 — are what Ukrainian citizens need most now. 

“These are items that any front-line workers and volunteers use to stay alive,” Watts said. “For $90, you can save a life. Thank you for being here, for supporting us and for sharing your talents with us. We definitely need more arts every single day since they are the universal language.”

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at