The Press-Enterprise – Published Article

Riverside children are getting ready to record a video singing, “Let There Be Peace On Earth.”

Later the same day — Saturday, March 5 — southwest Riverside County residents plan to hoist sunflowers and candles to show their support for the Ukrainian people in Temecula.

On Sunday, March 6, activists intend to gather on a Claremont street corner to rally for peace in Ukraine. Then on Tuesday, March 8, a Grammy-winning Cal Poly Pomona music professor and pianist is poised to perform in a live-streamed concert to raise money for medical supplies, food and shelter for those who have been injured and displaced by war.

Chamber Music | OC is putting on the virtual benefit concert and violinist Iryna Krechkovsky, the group’s co-founder, helped organize it. She grew up in the western Ukraine city of Ivano-Frankivsk.

“Like many people, I feel helpless,” Krechkovsky said. “I am obviously safe here. But I am so clearly tied to my roots, and I have family and friends in Ukraine. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the suffering.”

The devastation is driving many to action.

“My heart hurts,” said Sherian Spencer, moderator for United Church of the Valley in Murrieta.

As Russia sent tanks deep into Ukraine and relentlessly dropped bombs on its cities, Spencer made plans for a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Temecula Duck Pond.

“Quite frankly, I just felt like I needed to do something,” she said. “There is only so much I can do from this far away, so I have to do what I can.”

In addition to solemnly calling for peace with candles and sunflowers — Ukraine’s national flower — a member of her church will speak.

It was the images of Ukrainian children that tugged at Nové Deypalan‘s heart.

More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine since the bombs started falling, and UNICEF estimates half a million children are now refugees in neighboring countries.

“I saw the faces of the children, and it was just horrific,” said Deypalan, music and program director for the Riverside Arts Academy. “They are the innocent victims.”

Then he heard news of hospitals being bombed.

“I mean, who would do that?” he asked.

Deypalan watched footage of families interacting at the border of Poland and Ukraine. In one such scene, a father hugged his children goodbye, as he headed back to Ukraine to fight for his country.

“I can’t fathom the thought of leaving your children and not knowing if you’re going to come back for them,” he said.

Deypalan decided to do something involving the underprivileged children for whom the arts academy provides free music lessons and instruments. On Saturday morning, he plans to gather more than 200 children, ages 7 to 17, to sing the ode to peace at Riverside’s Cesar Chavez Community Center.

“Just talking about it, I got teary eyed,” he said.

Collette Lee, Riverside Arts Academy president, said some Riverside City Council and other community members will join the children. A Ukraine flag and sunflowers will be brought in, she said.

The video will be posted on the academy’s website, then put out on YouTube and social media, Lee said.

Deypalan hopes the video will make its way, via social media, to the people of Ukraine — and even Russian President Vladimir Putin. Perhaps, he said, Putin “will find some kindness in his heart through our message.”

As for the rally in Claremont, Tahil Sharma, a peace activist from Rancho Cucamonga said she had received about 20 reservations from an internet invite.

When Sharma first saw images of bombings and civilians being killed in Ukraine, she was shocked.

“I said, ‘Oh my God. Another crisis. What more can we handle at this point?’” she said.

The rally is part of a Global Action Day organized by the national group Code Pink: Women for Peace, an anti-war group formed in 2002 in opposition to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq.

History teacher and peace advocate Martin Madzarevic, of Upland, is co-organizing the rally, scheduled for Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Foothill and Indian Hill boulevards.

Madzarevic, 40, said he doesn’t believe economic sanctions will work and said the U.S. should take the lead in pursuing a diplomatic solution.

“The one thing the United States can do is broker a cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. And make a written agreement that Ukraine could become a neutral state and not a member of NATO,” he said, saying that NATO expansion created tension that contributed to the conflict.

“We need to put our political and nationalist goals aside and do what is best for the planet,” he said. “We have to de-escalate and we have to push for diplomacy.”

Looking ahead to the Tuesday benefit concert, Cal Poly Pomona music professor Nadia Shpachenko will be playing piano. She grew up in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv — the city, she said, that Russia appears intent on “trying to erase.”

Shpachenko, who spent the first 14 years of her life there, said she has family and friends who are sheltering in subway tunnels and basements.

It seems, she said, “there is a bomb every minute.”

Shpachenko, when not teaching her students, has been focused on the frightening reports from her homeland.

“I can’t even describe it. I can’t even put it into words,” she said, adding, “I’m trying to find ways to help.”

One way is to perform “Sonata No. 6,” written by late composer Yuri Ishchenko, during the concert. She premiered the piece in 2008 at the Kyiv Conservatory.

“The piece is dark, tumultuous and painful,” Shpachenko said. “I feel like it could be written now because it connects to what we are all feeling.”

Like others, Shpachenko feels helpless.

“What is happening is so unimaginable,” she said, adding that she just wants it somehow to end.

“People are dying,” she said. “They are destroying the country. I just hope all of this stops right now.”