Feb. 6, 2015
By: Katie Egan


Ukrainians Protest Russian Conductor’s Concert


A storm was brewing Thursday night.

And it was gathering in the parking lot of Saint William Catholic Church, less than a mile away from popular performing arts hall Artis—Naples.

More than 50 SWFL Ukrainians and Ukrainian sympathizers from Naples to North Port converged on Artis—Naples’ front entrance around 7:05 p.m. to protest Valery Gergiev, conductor of the Mariinsky Orchestra.

Gergiev openly supports Russia’s annexation of the former Ukrainian territory of Crimea. The protesters thought it was time for him to face the music.

Last month, the Russian conductor sparked protests in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Metropolitan Opera House and Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.

On Thursday, more than 50 protesters flanked Artis—Naples’ front entrance while some of them guarded the back parking lot.

When asked to comment, Artis—Naples said in a statement: “By presenting Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, Artis—Naples continues its mission to share the work of world-class artists with our community. We are happy to support artistry at the level we will experience this evening.”

But those gathered outside were not protesting the arts. They were protesting Gergiev.

“We want to show America who is performing. We want everyone to know what’s going on. People are dying,” Galyna Kulik, 50, from Chicago.

*Inside, though, a nearly full house enjoyed the concert. Many said they were there specifically because of Gergiev’s intense conducting style, even though they were anticipating some disruption.

*“We expected it,” said Margaret Tarnowski of Toronto, Ontario, of the queue of protesters outside. “We were sitting in Brio having dinner and I told my husband, ‘I bet there are protesters.’ ”

*She said she didn’t blame the Ukrainians and sympathized with them. Still, she and her husband, John, had seen Gergiev conduct in Toronto and were impressed with his ability

Almost all of the protesters were holding — or wearing — blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. They sang the Ukrainian national anthem a couple of times. But since it was a silent protest, they did not yell out to vehicles entering the performing arts hall.

Throughout the hourlong protest, one side shouted (in Ukrainian) “Glory to Ukraine” and the other side responded with “Glory to our heroes” — a popular Ukrainian slogan.

Ukraine’s government and the West accuse Russia of backing the separatist forces fighting Ukraine’s military with arms, personnel and heavy equipment. Russia denies the accusation.

Public protests demanding closer ties to the European Union began in late 2013, followed by the resignation of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. This led to widespread civil unrest and, ultimately, a revolution in 2014.

Members of the Naples chapter of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to restore the former U.S.S.R.

“It’s like Mexico grabbing New Mexico, Arizona and California,” said Ann Marie Susla, president of the North Port chapter of the women’s league.

In recent weeks, the fighting in Ukraine has intensified.

“When Hitler was starting to invade countries and the West was saying ‘well, if we sit back, maybe he’ll be satisfied and he’ll stop and he won’t go any further’ – same thing with Russia right now,” Susla said. “And it blew up into World War II. Now, Russia went into Georgia, no one did anything. And now they went and annexed Crimea, nobody did anything. And now he’s taking an entire chunk of eastern Ukraine and wanting that land bridge to Crimea.”

*Naples Daily News editor Harriet Heithaus contributed to this report.

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