Ukrainian Refugee Music Students find sanctuary at the National Musicians’ Church
On a warm, late August afternoon the dramatic music of one of Ukraine’s greatest contemporary composers, Myroslav Skoryk, fills the nave of Holy Sepulchre, Holborn. This day marks 60 years of independence of Ukraine from the Soviet Union, and 6 months since the start of the current war.
The beautiful, urgent music is played by 21-year-old violinist, Nikita Vikhorev and 19-year-old pianist, Yuliia Mats. Both are refugees, fleeing the bloodshed in their native Ukraine.
The Parish Church of Holy Sepulchre, Holborn, has stood on the edge of the city of London for hundreds of years. It contains the musicians’ chapel with the grave of Sir Henry Wood, founder of the BBC Proms, who started his musical career at the church. By hosting rehearsals and performances throughout its history the church became known as the National Musicians’ Church, but five years ago, despite protests and letters to the national press, the church closed its doors to musical hirings.
Father Nick Mottershead is a priest and city worker. When he arrived at Holy Sepulchre, he felt compelled to revive the church’s calling to be a place of sanctuary, compassion, and culture, not just for the sake of musicians but for all who could richly benefit from the transportation and transformation of music in the context of prayer – in particular his harassed and isolated fellow city workers who work all around the church every day of the week.
Enter Stefania Passamonte – a concert pianist and director of the London Performing Academy of Music (LPMAM). Starting during the Covid Pandemic, LPMAM developed an online platform for teaching and performance and formed partnerships with music schools throughout Europe, including the Kyiv Conservatoire and Kharkiv University. Because of this relationship which preceded the war, LPMAM is the only conservatoire that could provide legal letters to request that music students be exempted from fighting and brought to London to complete their studies. Passamonte set about helping those young people and preserving the musical future of Ukraine. Sponsors and homes were sought. Students began to arrive.
When Father Nick heard Stefania’s story, he didn’t see any other response than offering Holy Sepulchre as their home. Setting up the church to house a conservatoire with facilities for teaching, rehearsal and performance was going to take some planning and time. Stefania’s response was ‘Can we start Monday? Because they are here. And they are hurting.’ So, they started the following Monday.
26 students from the Ukraine conservatoires are now here in Britain. 20 are in Germany and Holland waiting for homes to be found for them in the UK. Another 40 are still in Ukraine ready to leave. Finding sponsors and hosts in London remains a great need. Some of the students who have already arrived are having to live as far afield as Norfolk and Manchester!
Things are still at an early stage. Funding has been sought for tutors and travel, space is provided for lessons and weekly concerts giving students the opportunity to perform to their peers and a wider audience. Pastoral support is also being put in place in partnership with the Ukrainian chaplaincy team.
The hope is that the students might fulfil their education, grow in their talent, and build a proper base for a new life. Many want to pursue an international career and then go back and rebuild the culture, conservatoires, and music in Ukraine.
If you would like to support this work, there are several ways you can help. You can give financially to support the work. Come and support the concerts that the students are giving. If you could host a student in your home, contact Stefania Passamonte directly. If you’re a clergy person who could host a student through the clergy hosting scheme, please contact the compassionate communities team at the diocese.
In Father Nick’s words, ‘It is wonderful to allow God to pour out his grace into us and allow us to bless others as we are blessed. We’re not being asked to risk our lives, just to join in’.
Concerts by musicians from the Ukraine Conservatoires are held every Thursday from 5-6pm at Holy Sepulchre, Holborn Viaduct, EC1A 2DQ.