Throughout a 22-year reign as president, Vladimir Putin has paired military aggression and human rights violations with a culture of fear and silence. Mass protests against his leadership have been violently quashed. Public figures who openly oppose his leadership have faced dire consequences.
When Putin made a public address shortly before 6am local time on February 24, 2022 which was followed by a land, air, and sea invasion of Ukraine, however, Russians did not remain silent. What had been feared for weeks had now become a reality that surprised even his most pessimistic critics, and an unprecedented number of Russian public figures have voiced their outrage and horror at his act. This includes many representatives of the country’s classical music scene. What follows are statements made to VAN by some of those conductors, composers, singers, and more—as well as links to comments that have appeared elsewhere. We will be updating this page as more comments come in.
Kirill Gerstein, Pianist
This war, and most especially the barbaric military force used on the civilian population, is utterly unacceptable and unjustifiable. I abhor the violent actions of the Russian government and empathise and grieve with its victims in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Polina Korobkova, Composer
In the light of the current events I realised that it’s of my first duty to write this email and to state my position clearly as it’s one of the only things I can do to help. The goal of this letter is to inform you and your close ones that there is an
enormous number of people with Russian IDs who are, like me, feeling guilt and
shame at the moment. Even if mass media shows it differently, that is not the
We do not know how to live with the horror which Russia and Putin in particular
have caused to Ukraine and to the world. All our solidarity and thoughts are with
Ukrainian people! Me, my parents and grandparents, my Russian friends, and
colleagues are strongly against this war. I am personally deeply ashamed, shocked, devastated and in fury of the actions taken by the country in which I, unfortunately, happen to be born. I want to apologize that by the place of birth I am unwillingly a part of this, even though I have never chosen this president. He was already there from the first day of my life. We never voted for him, we never supported him, his actions and decisions, nor the system which he built. We never chose this war, it’s not ours—it’s his.
I am lucky to be living and studying in Germany. I go on demonstrations and express my position safely, whereas my friends and colleagues in Russia are being put in jail for speaking up against this madness. At the moment there are around 6,500 people who were brutally arrested during yesterday’s demonstrations. Some people lost their jobs or quit them deliberately as a sign of protest. I do not have the words to express the things that I am feeling at the moment. I just want to say how enormously sorry I am for all of this. I could never imagine that something like this could ever happen.
So, stop Putin, stop Russia—stand with Ukraine!
Ivan Bushuev, Flutist and Composer
There is nothing more precious than human life. There is nothing worse than war. There is nothing worse than a lie.
All that we now see being done by the Kremlin is led by an insane man who is killing innocents, imprisoning the honest, and destroying everything in his path. He is not someone who I—or anyone I know—voted for. I’m feeling weak and helpless. I don’t know what to do. There is no explanation that I can think of for what’s happening in the government of the country where I am a citizen. I have been ashamed and hurt for years! I want to ask forgiveness from the citizens of Ukraine, to whom we bring pain and disaster. Because today it is impossible not to think about the responsibility of each and every one of us for what is happening. How dare they attack ordinary citizens? When those few people peacefully take to the streets pleading “No to war,” they’re either put in a police van or fined for exercising the freedom of speech that every citizen should have. How can people be forced to ignore the truth? What a pile of lies, filth, and injustice!
I say NO to war! NO to terror! NO to lies, and NO TO PUTIN!
Слава Україні!!! Живе світ! [Glory to Ukraine! Long live the world!]
Natalia Pschenitschnikova, Composer, Singer, and Performer
It’s the fifth day of the war, and only now do I have any words. All this time I’d just been signing countless letters and going to demonstrations. At the same time, I had the feeling that I was primarily doing it for myself. To somehow ease the pain inside me. What about the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”? It feels like it’s me who kills children and blows up houses, as if blood is on my hands, because it’s all happening in my name. Every bullet fired in Ukraine, every shell that explodes there, hits me. The courageous Ukrainians defending their land from the insane criminals calling themselves Russia protect not only themselves, but also me—a Russian, who allowed all this to happen. Moreover, they defend the whole world, which for too long has tried to “understand” Putin, either out of complacency or out of a desire to stay in the comfort zone, making deals with a “perfect democrat.”
I want to scream on behalf of the Ukrainian mothers whose children have died in shellings; on behalf of the Russian mothers whose children have been made into invaders and murderers. But I scream on my own behalf: Russia, stop this war! I don’t want this shameful and traitorous war! There are still too many people in Russia who are being manipulated and denied the slightest opportunity to understand what is going on. But there are always dissenters who risk their lives to take to the streets and protest. Maybe for their sake we will one day be forgiven. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Russian warships, go fuck yourself!
Alena Baeva, Violinist
I am trying to shape into words what I feel about the situation, but I think it has already been said better and more fully—for example, by Semyon Bychkov. I could not imagine Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in my worst nightmare. It is unacceptable to break international laws and command such disaster. Unacceptable to lie to people who live in Russia; to control all the media and have the strictest censorship; to kill journalists and politicians; and to manipulate people’s minds into believing that everyone around is an enemy who wants to destroy Russia, so that Russian citizens must fight in order to literally exist. My heart and my mind is with the Ukrainian people, who suffer enormously and who are losing their lives, their loved ones, their homes, their basic rights; whose needs are being violated because of unprecedented aggression from current political regime of Russia. I wish so strongly that this unimaginable war will finish tomorrow and that there will always be the option to peacefully resolve conflict.
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Elena Revich, Violinist
I never thought I would witness a war; a senseless war with our neighbors and brothers. I want to wake up, but unfortunately this is not a dream—it’s a frightening reality. Our situation in Russia is worse than ever: Society is very divided and many still believe in the powerful state propaganda that has been aggressively pursued for many years. It “inspires” people with the most terrifying things. I can’t think of anything in the world that’s comparable to our political propaganda talk shows. They’ve played their sinister role in making this whole war possible and making people ready to accept anything.
The rest of us have tried—and are still trying—for change, but the regime’s strength and pressure are increasing by the hour. Dark days are coming for all who disagree. I don’t think we can imagine all the terrible consequences this war will leave us.
Boris Filanovsky, Composer
I have never experienced such sadness, numbness, and physical panic—even when my parents were dying, even when I’ve lost those closest to me. I was supposed to have a major premiere in Russia, but I canceled it on the day of the Russian invasion and returned to Berlin because it’s impossible for me to make music in Russia now—physically and ethically. And I don’t know what has to happen for that to change.
Although no, I do know what has to happen: Putin and his Nazi junta should be destroyed or brought before an international tribunal as war criminals and international terrorists. But, even if that happens, Russia as a country and Russians as a people will not be able to absolve ourselves of this historical disgrace in any foreseeable future. We are the new Germans, and we are the ones who need denazification.
We have needed it for at least ten years. But Russian society is not immune to Nazism. Russians believe that the winners are not judged. That’s why those in power have built this ugly monopoly out of Russia’s “great victory” over Germany and still cling to it more than 75 years later. There’s even a Russian proverb about this: “The thief’s hat is on fire.”
About five years ago, I was at a reception with [German] President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking with some German colleagues. I tried to convince them that it was impossible to negotiate with Putin’s Russia, that the state in Russia was controlled by the FSB mafia, like a cancer. I saw respectable people who understood Putin incapable of believing that such a thing was possible. I hope it’s not only they who now understand what today’s Russian power is.
Elena Rykova, Composer
I condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I will never support a war, any war. This war is not only against people in Ukraine. It is also against free Russian people, inside and outside Russia, who have fought and suffered from the totalitarian regime for years. Every action of Putin in Ukraine takes away lives on both sides. It creates unimaginable consequences; immediate and long-term impacts on all of us, both psychological and political. Putin has decided to rob us of the future, which each of us has been passionately building with our lives.
Putin has become a hazard for humanity. But his politics of fear will prevail no longer. We will speak and act to destroy the illusion of the public support that he tries to create with his political propaganda through official Russian media. There is not a single Russian person in or outside Russia—that I know personally—who supports him. Everyone I know is terrified, scared, angry, and deeply hurt by the current political events.
Every single Russian person who states their political opinion takes the risk of prosecution and imprisonment. But the fight is now or never. We’ve passed a point of no return.
I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. I support them, I support the freedom of speech, I support peace, and I still believe in a better future—a future without war, a future without fear and corruption, a future without Putin.
Philipp Chizhevsky, Conductor
War is the worst thing in life! We do not want our children to live in an aggressor country! We demand an immediate cessation of hostilities!
Elizaveta Miller, Pianist
My feelings today are of numbness, terror, disgust, and hatred. This war is against every cell of me. This government is illegitimate and criminal. What people live in Ukraine is unimaginable and so, so unfair!
What we go through in Russia is the end of hope. We never had illusions—I never voted for this regime—but until Thursday, we could still go on living in innocence, trying to protest peacefully, and to play music for peace. Now every note I can play is to mourn the dead, the lost hopes, and the lost future of my country. I stand with the Ukrainian people and I honestly believe that their future will be better than ours. We are held hostage by a madman with bombs, and will have to deal with this guilt.
The shame and guilt many of us feel is real. We all feel we could have done better to fight the regime over the years. I only wish there was something we could do now except go in the streets and get arrested again.
Oleg Krokhalev, Composer
As I am writing these words, people of my country are proceeding into Ukraine and are bombing Kyiv while its citizens hide in the underground, as Londoners did during the Blitz in 1941. Moscow and St. Petersburg are crowded with police to prevent any chance of even peaceful protests against this war. Some of my friends were already taken to court for carrying anti-war signs.
This has been perceived as something common for some time, and even this cowardly action [of repression] is in itself sick and disgusting. But no one, until the very beginning of war, really believed it could happen. A gang of murderers on behalf of us Russian citizens has sent troops to Ukraine under a fake excuse. Their goal is to obtain control over the country, to change the government to the one that suits Putin more. But I am afraid that they will not stop there. Putin has put himself into a position where the only way for him to lose control is through a tribunal. As far as he feels allowed, as far as he feels empowered, he and his disconnected-from-the-motherland gang will keep growing as a threat to the world. This seems to be something distant and even unlikely, but can very quickly turn into a worldwide catastrophe. Therefore, this war must be stopped at once before it is too late.
Yesterday tore hearts apart and drowned them in horror. Every Russian I know and have talked to in the past two days is in absolute shock.
Sergej Newski, Composer
What’s important to understand is that this is not a local war that’s only happening on TV or the internet. It’s a megalomaniacal dictator’s attempt to change the global world order, and everyone in Europe will soon feel it. Ukraine needs our full solidarity and support now. It takes an anti-war coalition to force the aggressor to make peace. Also important: The image of 73% of Russians supporting the war is incorrect. All of the Russians I know are deeply shocked and ashamed, and not a single person in my homeland—that I know—shows solidarity with the aggressor. I’ve felt that very strongly in the last two days. None of us believed that this madness would be possible; nor did my friends in Kyiv. And now it has started.
Meanwhile, the opposition in Russia has been crushed, the free media wiped out, and the masses are left despondent and apathetic. Yesterday, thousands of people across 50 cities in Russia took to the streets against the war, protesting in silence as anyone who shouted anti-war slogans or held up a sign was immediately beaten and arrested. Today in Russia, it takes courage to march in the streets, or to simply speak your mind. As a Russian, I, too, am deeply ashamed that my country is being ruled by a mentally unstable psychopath who is holding the entire population hostage. And that the Russian army is currently launching its most brutal attacks on a neighboring country without any reason whatsoever. The whole world must come together to stop this attack.
I hope that Putin and his accomplices will pay dearly for their war crimes, and that this senseless and bloody venture will be the beginning of the end of the dictatorship in Russia. Because it is not only a war against Ukraine; it is also a war against all free people in my homeland. The tragedy of my country lies in the fact that a modern and open country with a very rich culture is being governed by an insane group of Stasi pensioners who think and act as though we were in the 19th century. They are not only committing public suicide, they’re also bringing the entire country—and perhaps the entire world—down with them. It’s therefore not just about Ukraine. It’s about Europe. It’s about our future. My heart breaks for Ukraine. Justice will prevail.
Maria Ostroukhova, Mezzo-Soprano
Yesterday, on the 24th of February, my heart was broken. I feel deeply sorry for the people of Ukraine. My relatives live in Zaporizhzhia, and I fear for their lives. One thing I can say with certainty: Russian people are not the enemy. Vladimir Putin is. No one wants this war but him and a bunch of his cronies. I love Russia very much, but right now I weep for its fate. For the fate of the aggressor (as history tells us) is nothing to envy. Be brave and don’t let hatred win—that is exactly what the Kremlin wants.
Polina Osetinskaya, Pianist
How do I feel now? Pain, devastation, shame. From my early childhood to the present day, Ukraine has been a joy and light for me. My children were raised with the help of three Ukrainian nannies. At my concerts [there], I have been met only with love. And now my government has declared war on our fraternal people on my behalf, and has invaded it. I grew up during the Cold War and could never imagine that we would find ourselves in this disposition again. I pray to God that the madness will end as soon as possible. And although it will be impossible to forget this shameful fact, I ask Ukrainians and the whole world to remember that a lot of Russians do not want and did not want this fratricidal war. God send us peace!
Vladimir Rannev, Composer
Everything that happened today is a catastrophe for Russia and a serious threat for Europe—which, for a long time, has avoided taking this threat seriously. My guess is that the only pragmatic scenario that Putin and his regime could pursue through war is to turn Russia into Iran or North Korea, granting the ruling elite—the ex-KGB FSB, oligarchs, and top bureaucrats—the option to remain in power forever. This goal has its price: The elites will lose billions of dollars, but gain more—the ability to rule the country and its people as their property. But as soon as the elite in such a country encounter new problems, they will again wage war with their neighbors and threaten the whole world with nuclear annihilation. I don’t think Europe should treat the war in Ukraine as alien; the Putin regime knows no bounds when it comes to self interest. They will swallow anyone who allows it.
Olga Pashchenko, Pianist
It is absolutely devastating to see what is happening. We don’t want war; it is a horrible shame. We want all the attacks to be stopped immediately. We are indignant, horrified, and heartbroken by them—we want peace. Every minute we are praying for our friends and family in Ukraine. If only our voices would be heard!
Lev Markiz, Conductor
I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the behavior of the Russian authorities as led by their president. I hope that all of my fellow musicians, wherever they are, will raise their voices in defense of Ukraine and Europe against the horrors of war and the suffering of millions of innocent people. Don’t be silent! This is the most important tool against criminals!
Mikhail Mordvinov, Pianist
Yesterday, Russia, my fatherland, unfortunately took a war it initiated eight years ago to a new level and launched a large-scale invasive military operation across Ukraine. I am against the attack by Russia and its advance into Ukraine. It is important to me to speak openly against this escalation. As a Russian citizen, I now have to bear my own responsibility for this.
The latest from Kyiv
Kyiv Symphony Orchestra director Anna Stavychenko about living on 24/7 high alert and the importance of culture in a crisis.
What artists have said elsewhere…
On February 25, conductor Ivan Velikanov opened a concert at the Nizhny Novgorod Opera with a short anti-war speech and a performance of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” On March 1, he announced that he had been suspended from conducting “Le nozze di Figaro” at the Moscow Theater Festival ”Golden Mask.” He was replaced by Fabio Mastrangelo.
In a statement made on February 25, Kirill Petrenko, chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, described Putin’s “insidious attack on Ukraine, which violates international law” as a “knife in the back of the whole peaceful world.“
Speaking ahead of a February 24 concert with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra, pianist Alexander Melnikov expressed guilt and shame for not having done enough to stop the war. He also added that he never voted for Putin. His short speech ended with the words: “I don’t understand why we allow men like Putin or Trump to do this to our civilization.”
Pianist and composer Evgeny Kissin issued a video statement on February 24. A version with English subtitles was posted on February 27.
The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor and artistic director Vladimir Jurowski, who has family roots in both Russia and Ukraine, expressed his deepest sadness and announced a program change for this weekend’s concerts. In lieu of Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave,” the BRSO will now play Mykhailo Verbytsky’s Symphonic Overture No. 1 and the Ukrainian national anthem (also composed by Verbytsky).
Semyon Bychkov, chief conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic, wrote a statement via his website on February 24 about his country’s legacy of silence and genocide. “I don’t know if Russia will discover how to live in peace with itself and the world in my lifetime,” he concluded. “What I do know is an ancient Russian saying: ‘Words are silver, and silence is gold.’ Yes. but there are moments in life when silence in the face of evil becomes its accomplice and ends up becoming its equal. To remain silent today is to betray our conscience and our values, and ultimately what defines the nobility of human nature.” The following day, Bychkov announced his withdrawal from upcoming engagements in Russia. ¶
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