Ukrainian girl, 11, set to sing at special concert

The peace and serenity of a Sutton Coldfield church offers an escape from harrowing scenes and the daily horrors of war.

Richard Mason, of the Emmanuel Choir and Orchestra, with Nataly and Melisa
Richard Mason, of the Emmanuel Choir and Orchestra, with Nataly and Melisa

As the majestic sound of a church organ resonates around Emmanuel Church, in Wylde Green, 11-year-old Ukrainian Melisa Kogut and her family – mother Nataly, brother Akim and grandma Galina – sit reflecting on the fact they have, at least, found safety and shelter with kind-hearted hosts in the Royal Town.

It's a world away from the dreaded sound of explosions and sirens they were awoken by in Kyiv in the early hours of February 24.

Fearing for their lives, they fled, first by car and then, as things got more treacherous, by foot, eventually crossing the border to Romania and, finally arriving in Sutton Coldfield, on March 5.

The security of the West Midlands doesn't take away from the torment caused by the way in which President Vladimir Putin and the Russian army have mounted a campaign of brutality and destruction on the family's homeland.

Nor does it remove the worry and anxiety – the fact the family's patriarch, Vasyl, remains in the war-torn country, or that they have no idea when they will see their home again.

But, as guests of Jean Soper, they are, at least, finding love and support – and, as a family, they are also keen to integrate into the local community, while they await their return home.

As a result, Melisa will take part in a concert of reflective music at the church on Friday evening.

Richard Mason, of the Emmanuel Choir and Orchestra, with Nataly and Melisa

She is set to sing her country's national anthem at the show, which is being held in aid of humanitarian support to Ukraine.

"Melisa loves to sing and she sings very nicely," Nataly explains. "She has even won an international competition and is looking forward to singing.

"I don't want Melisa or Akim to forget the things they achieved back home in Ukraine."

With a growing support network in the town, it's unlikely that will be the case. There's a real determination among people in the town to ensure families are given the help they need and the opportunity to do the things they would have done at home.

"I thought we would have nothing to do but we have had a busy schedule of things to do and places to go," adds Nataly.

"It's nice. There is now a support group on a Sunday afternoon - for hosts and guests

"We have found people in the same situation and it's been possible to talk with them, which is good for the children because it is hard for them to speak English.

"So it's nice to have people to talk with and make friends.

"We feel very lucky to be with Jean. She's been so kind to take us in. There are four of us, a whole family, so she has been so nice to help us."

It's clear from speaking to Jean that taking the family in has also enriched her life.

"I felt I had to do something," she says. "We have all seen on television how truly awful this has been.

"It's been very hard to understand why a country should decide to take action like they have. It has happened before in history and now Russia has Putin, who has decided that this is what he is going to do.

"I wanted to help and I have to say it's been a pleasure to have the whole family with me.

"They are so good at cooking and invited me to share meals with them.

"They are wonderful around the house and help with cleaning, as well as in the garden."

Galia Tymchuk and Akim, Melisa and Nataly Kogut

While such activities help take the family's mind off things on occasions, naturally thoughts of home are never far away, particularly for Vasyl.

"Melisa loves her father very much and it's very difficult for her," adds Nataly, who is a lecturer back home.

"Vasyl is in different places, delivering medicine and food from Western Ukraine to the East – places like Kharkiv and even Mairupol.

"So it's very risky what he is doing. We can't speak every day, due to loss of internet connection on certain days or he's not always allowed to speak. We worry, of course, and pray for his safety."

When Melisa delivers an emotional and moving performance of her national anthem, thoughts will unquestionably be with Vasyl and the brave people of Ukraine.

And it's such courage that Nataly says enables families like hers to remain hopeful.

"It was said three days would be needed for Russia to take control of Kyiv, Putin thought," she says. "But you see, more than three months later, that is not the case.

"Nobody believed but people are brave, even elderly women in villages, they have fought for freedom.

"He (Putin) wants to be printed in history as the man who renewed USSR, that's his madness. But we have our own country and we don't want them to take it from us."

Friday night's programme, includes Fauré's Requiem.

The Emmanuel Choir and Orchestra will be joined by members of Sutton Coldfield Chamber Choir and Sutton Coldfield Choral Society.

Concert organiser Richard Mason said: "People have willingly come together ready to perform this with an orchestra.

"It's an opportunity for some time of quiet reflection in the tragic events currently taking place on our continent.

"We hope very much the church will be full and the reflective music will give space for thought. And we are thrilled that we are being joined by Melisa, who will make a wonderful contribution to the concert."

Tickets for the event at Emmanuel Church, in Wylde Green, are £15 and the full amount will go to the fund.

Access is available from the main door of the church – the entrance leads off Little Green Lanes.

To reserve tickets for the concert, which takes place at 7.30pm, you can call 07941 466 423.

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