Acadiana Symphony Orchestra: Thirty noteworthy years _lowres

Photo provided by the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra -- Maestro Mariusz Smolij

Marta Turianska, a Ukrainian violinist at the Acadiana Symphony in Lafayette, was not checking the news when a friend from church texted, she was praying for her country. Turianska's life changed in minutes. When she turned on the news, she saw reports of the first explosions in Kyiv as  Russia began the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Frightened, she called her mom, who lives in Ivano-Frankivsk, in the Western region of the country. The first thing she heard was the sinister sound of the sirens in the background. “She was not ready. They were not ready or trained. They had no idea what to do. It was 4 in the morning,” she said about that night. “My mum had to get some sedatives because she was there all alone, in shock. And my grandparents were panicking on another phone call. It was kinda crazy and I couldn’t stop crying.”

Like Turianksa, thousands of Ukrainians in the United States lived the invasion of their own country through phone calls and text messages from family and friends. According to U.S. Census estimates, in 2019, there were a little more than 1 million Americans of Ukrainian descent, with large populations in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

Turianska’s dad, a musician who currently works on a cruise ship, saw the war exploding in his country when far away from it, and he is not able to return. Turianska’s brother lives in the south of Kyiv with his fiancée. “I wanted my mom to leave when I saw what was happening. I asked her to go to Poland,” she said. “I talked to her, but…she is staying because it's her land. It's hard for me to accept, but I am proud of her decision.”

More than half a million people have already fled Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the UN refugee agency reported.

Louisiana hasn't been home to sizable populations of Ukrainian-Americans in recent years, but the few who live in Acadiana have experienced an outpouring of support. In a letter to The Acadiana Advocate, Daniil Katerynchuk, a UL engineering student from Ukraine, said sleep deprivation and anxiety are two distinctive characteristics for those who live far from where the Russian invasion is ongoing.

“Every night before falling asleep, I spend some time reading the latest news,” he wrote the day before the war started. “And this is the first thing I do upon waking up. I am afraid of the scenario that one day I might open the news feed and see that the full-scale war has started.”

Turianska's experience is similar.

“You never sleep because of the time difference,” she said. “I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and check the updates because you never know when the attack is coming and where your relatives are.”

Top stories in Acadiana in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Turianska, who has been in the U.S. for six years, is asking western countries to do more and faster to help Ukraine, which in 1994 gave up its nuclear capability to see its security granted.

Mariusz Smolij is conductor of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, which welcomed two other Ukrainian musicians. Though he is from Poland, his grandfather was from Ukraine.

“My last name is Ukrainian,” he said Monday.

Smolij  said he realized the Russian threat was real when he lost contact with most of his friends in Ukraine. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law, they joined the Army and were not able to communicate with the outside world.

“That tells you how dangerous and frightening the situation is,” said Smolij, talking on behalf of the symphony he leads. “Unfortunately, history repeats itself because it’s not the first time that Russia is attacking with no reason neighboring country. We don’t have to forget that the same time Russia attacked Poland, Hitler did it in 1939,” he added.

Smolij said western countries need to send Ukraine “as much as guns and ammunition and food as much as we possibly can,” because “Putin’s war is a war to the entire western world, including the U.S. I think that, absolutely, we need unity of every people around. Any kinds of pressure we can do, we should do it unified to leave no doubts that this is unacceptable.”

For musicians like Marta Turianska, the only hope is that lines of communication with her family will stand. “Sometimes I try to call my mom, and she texts me back saying she can't respond because there is an air alert and they have to go to the shelter,” Turianska said.

“This nonsense must end now.”


Email Davide Mamone at dmamone@theadvocate.com.