'This is a war on our culture': Ukrainian pianist plays Chester concert for children's hospitals

Words and video report by Will Tullis, ITV News

The piano stool may not be the frontline of war, but for Ukrainian composer Alla Sirenko, music and culture have a vital role to play in resisting Russia's invasion.

On November 25th, Alla will perform at the Spirit of Ukraine concert at Chester's Storyhouse theatre to raise vital funds for two children's hospitals in her war-ravaged homeland.

"I feel as though I am a soldier of the cultural front of Ukraine", she said.

"This is my duty to do fundraising concerts as much as possible to help Ukrainian needs as much as possible", Alla told ITV News.

Ms Sirenko, who was composer in residence at Lviv Opera House, will perform new music inspired by events that have unfolded in her homeland since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February.

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The musician is also the founder and president of the Ukrainian Cultural Association in the UK, which organised the Spirit of Ukraine concert alongside the Rotary Club of Tarporley.

For Alla, getting on stage has added importance. This war, she says, is as much about culture as it is about politics.

"Russia is trying to destroy our culture", she said.

"They're just bombing our elderly, children, infrastructure, they have just annihilated us, tried to destroy us as a nation", she said.

"But Ukrainians are quite strong. We've kept over centuries our traditions, our music, our art, our language.

"I am sure we will win this war."

"[Russia] doesn't have any compassion...they're trying to destroy us as a nation", Ukrainian composer Alla Sirenko has said.

As well as composing, recording and performing music, Alla has travelled to Ukraine via the Polish border on humanitarian missions.

The composer, who has lived in the UK for thirty years, has delivered medical equipment to hospitals in Kyiv and Lviv as part of these trips.

Artwork by Ukrainian artists will also be on sale as part of the fundraising efforts. Alla has already raised £8000 from similar concerts in the UK.

"Concerts and music play an extremely important part" in resisting Putin's war, says Alla Sirenko.

Over 6000 civilians have died since the war broke out in February. Tragically, children make up 402 of those deaths, according to the United Nations.

Cheshire has become home to a growing number of Ukrainian refugees looking to rebuild their lives from the rubble of war.

Iryna Tyshchenko was pregnant with her fourth child when the bombs began to fall on her hometown of Kherson.

Fearing for her life, and the life of her unborn child, Iryna left Ukraine with her three children, husband and two cats, in search of safety.

"I was pregnant and I didn't want my kids to be involved in this and have psychological problems", she told ITV News.

Iryna described the day war broke out in her hometown of Kherson.

"I was drinking coffee in the morning and then we saw the explosion", she said.

"We live a few kilometres away from the airport and there were big explosions. We saw it in the window."

"I was pregnant and I didn't want my kids to be involved", Iryna describes the moment she knew she had to leave Ukraine.

That's when Iryna and her family started a long and arduous journey that began in their flat in Kherson as bombs started to fall, and ended in the safety of their new home of Tarporley, Cheshire.

"We really do not know if we will be able to go back to Ukraine.

"Hopefully the war will be finished soon with our victory and we will be able to come back to Ukraine.

Dr Ann Williams, Chair of the International Committee at Tarporley Rotary Club, is one of many Cheshire residents who have opened their arms to Ukrainian refugees. She has been heavily involved in local resettlement efforts.

Ann used to work as an English teacher. Now, she is using those skills to help newly arrived Ukrainians integrate into the local community.

"We are spending a lot of time teaching Ukrainian refugees about our language and culture which they have wholly embraced", she said.

"It’s now time for us to enjoy learning more about the culture of their beautiful country at the same time as raising desperately needed funds for sick children in Ukraine’s war-torn hospitals."

In Tarporley, Iryna and her family continue to adjust to their new lives.

"I miss some Ukrainian foods but I am drinking English tea now", Iryna said.

"We miss our home but we are very grateful to the people of Tarporley. Our future is here now."