By Alexander Ostrovski, a member of the Rotary Club of Dortmund-Romberge and director of the Phoenix Music Academy
Having grown up in Crimea, when it was both a part of the Soviet Union and then Ukraine, I was shocked when I saw the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
From 2002 to 2008, I worked professionally with the Ukrainian national chamber orchestra, and before that, spent half my life in Moscow. I studied at the Moscow Conservatory where my colleagues were Russians and Ukrainians. Our differences didn’t matter. Ours is the musical tradition of Tchaikovsky, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. The brutal attacks that began 24 February trampled on this beautiful culture. In many ways, I feel personally attacked by the war.
My first thought was how can I help? As director of a music academy for gifted musicians, I have been helping children and young people from Ukraine continue their education in Dortmund, Germany.
In the Ukrainian education model, musical training for the very talented starts as early as the first grade. At these special institutions, music is the main subject, while other subjects such as mathematics and science are secondary. It is a kind of vocational training with the goal of mastering music. The Phoenix Music Academy which I founded in Dortmund in 1998, is partners with several of these special music schools.
When the war started, I contacted the directors of several of these institutions with the following offer: As long as our capacity allows, we would accept Ukrainian music students wanting to maintain their education in the primary subject of music. They receive their instrumental lessons with us and, if necessary, a minor subject such as harmony, while they continue to get lessons in other subjects online from Ukraine.
We have accepted more than 40 students. For most of them, it is a question of existence. These are students who would be labeled “highly gifted” anywhere in the world. They place such a high value on their culture and musical education, that they simply can’t imagine a life without music.
With the help of many Rotary members and some other service clubs, we have been able to place students with families in Dortmund. A travel company helps bring the students to Germany via bus with the cost offset by Rotary members. Several of our students are staying with Rotarian families. The hosts are taking such great care of the students, that I almost feel like they have been adopted. It’s been a family environment from day one.
We have also organized a series of peace concerts with the money going to support our students. The concerts send a message of reconciliation and understanding. We play the works of Shostakovich, whose life and music reflected the problems faced by people in the Soviet Union post-World War II. It is very appropriate to play these works again.
Any Rotary clubs that would like to organize benefit concerts in their cities can contact me, we are open to suggestions. We have set up a donation page for anyone wishing to help support these young Ukrainian musicians at https://www.phoenix-charity.eu/. I strongly feel the best way I can help in my profession is by enabling my future colleagues to continue their education.