Brave musicians of Odesa Opera House sing while packing sandbags on Ukraine’s frontline

10 March 2022, 14:43 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 14:44

Odesa’s opera house behind barricades of sandbags
Odesa’s opera house behind barricades of sandbags. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Singers fill sandbags, and musicians learn to assemble rifles as the port city of Odesa prepares for Russian attacks.

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This month at the Odesa Opera House, productions of Verdi’s Aida and Il Trovatore, and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, were due to take place in the 19th-century venue.

But instead of rehearsals, the opera house’s musicians and staff have volunteered to help defend Ukraine’s third largest city against imminent attack.

On Sunday, a wail of air sirens filled the streets, followed by an announcement that the military had shot down a Russian aircraft near the port city.

In a video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, warned residents: “They are preparing to bombard Odesa.

“Russians have always come to Odesa. They have always felt only warmth in Odesa. Only sincerity. And now what? Bombs against Odesa? Artillery against Odesa? Missiles against Odesa?”

He stressed that an attack “will be a war crime. It will be a historical crime”.

Read more: Ballet dancers from Kyiv National Opera join military to fight for Ukraine

A video (see above) shows singers from the opera house performing the national anthem while volunteers fill and transport sandbags to prepare for the Russian attack.

33-year-old bass-baritone Andrii Kharlamov is currently undergoing rudimentary training in first aid, and learning how to use a rifle.

He is a first-prize winner of the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition, but Kharlamov now spends his days filling sandbags at a yacht club on the Black Sea, instead of attending rehearsals; he’s not the only performer to join in the efforts.

“The singers, the dancers, the musicians, they are all here,” he told The Telegraph. “The teachers in the conservatories are also here. We are all united, just to protect our land.”

Outside the opera house, concerts have taken place to try to increase the morale of residents.

Earlier this week, a Ukrainian naval band played ‘Don't Worry, Be Happy’ outside the concert venue as well as the Ukrainian national anthem.

Other musicians and singers have come to make music in front of the barricades of concrete and wire which have been set up outside the opera house.

The barricades are being made out of sandbags, which are also being used to protect statues, such as the Monument to Duc de Richelieu.

Bass-baritone Kharlamov told The Telegraph that although he was concerned for the opera house itself as a building, in the face of an attack, he was “even more worried about the local people”.

“We want them to stay alive and protect them,” he added.

Duke Richelieu monument sandbagged in Odesa
Duke Richelieu monument sandbagged in Odesa. Picture: Nina Lyashonok/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Odesa is Ukraine’s last remaining major port on the Black Sea, and if the invasion is not called off, it is likely to be the Russian military’s next target.

A split image of the barricaded opera house has been shared across social media, showing how the opera house had previously set up barricades during World War II.

The opera house is a prominent part of the city, with many describing the building as Odesa’s ‘cultural heart’.

As history can be seen repeating itself in this photo, its brave performers are doing the same.

According to the Odesa opera house website, during the Second World War, troupes of singers, musicians, and actors, from the theatre went to the front to give performances, just as its current artists are doing today.