She is grateful for Slovenian help, but just wants to know when she will go home again

08/03/2022 Juliana Széchenyi
Date: 8 Mar 2022

Miroslava Bundziak, violinist from Kiev "They told me that we could continue to make music in Ljubljana in peace. But my thoughts are in Ukraine."
"The last time I played the violin was the night before the war started. When the bombs started falling, I was afraid that I would miss the warning sirens because of the music. I haven't taken my violin out of my bag since," said Miroslava Bundziak, a 20-year-old violinist from Kiev, at Zahony railway station on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border.

She spent two difficult, interminably long days on the way back from Kiev. In the terrible crowds at the train stations and on the trains, Miroslava, in the company of tens of thousands of people fleeing a war that grows more horrible every day, was constantly tending to her violin, the core of her identity. All the while, she also made sure that she remained close to the group of sixty-two other young musicians and their accompanists, members of the Ukrainian Youth Symphony Orchestra. Their evacuation from Kiev was triggered by the Slovenian Youth Symphony Orchestra (SMO).

A logistical nightmare
"I was scared. I was a bit numb. I didn't know what to do. I watched people running away. I had been at rehearsals and school the day before. We were planning concerts. And a trip. Everything was normal," Miroslava describes her feelings on the first day of the war, quietly and collected in the infernal cold that, no matter how many layers of clothing she wore, was creeping up to her bones. "I am happy to be safe. They told me that in Ljubljana, wherever we were going, we would be able to continue making music in peace. But my thoughts are in Ukraine. With my family and friends. It's hard for me," said the young Ukrainian musician while waiting for other young musicians to arrive. "I am grateful for the help, but I just wonder when I will go home again," she added. She held a paper in front of her with the words "Ukrainian Youth Symphony Orchestra", which they had been using all day to "locate" the evacuated musicians, aged between seven and twenty, amid the chaos at the train station. Three full trains arrived on Sunday from the Ukrainian side of the border, from the small town of Chop. Each train contained around seven hundred refugees from Ukraine, including several dozen students from Africa, who were immediately removed from the queue by Hungarian police officers and sent for special registration treatment. Several young Ukrainian musicians were also sent for special registration because their documents were not fully completed.

Birthday celebration in the shelter
Trains from Ukraine arrived in Hungary several hours late. In Zahony, tired passengers, refugees from the war, waited up to two hours in the carriages to be registered. This made the logistics of rescuing the young musicians, who were travelling on different trains and from different directions, quite difficult. The group had to stay together. It was extremely difficult to control everything. As the rescue operation was organised literally overnight, virtually everything was left to improvisation. Maribor's Uroš Dokl, who has a long history of helping refugees and doing humanitarian work, was at the forefront of this. The young musicians, some with their mothers and younger siblings, came from all over the country to reach the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. From Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kiev, Zhytomyr, Lviv... cities that have already become part of the collective historical memory in recent days - and for all the wrong reasons. It is usually like this. Especially in this part of the world, which cannot escape the grip of the excesses of history. "We are a little relieved. But only a little. Our men have been left behind. Some are already on the battlefields. I fear that soon they will all be. It's bad, very bad," said 40-year-old Julia Sherbinska from Herson, which was fully occupied by Russian troops after a week of siege, in a parking lot near the train station where two buses were waiting for the long journey from Hungary to Slovenia. She and her 12-year-old daughter (violinist) Maria left their home on the first day of the war. They spent three days driving to Lviv, where their relatives gave them their flat for a few days. They hoped that the fighting would last only a few days. They, too, were mistaken. Her husband stayed in Lviv, where he joined the city's territorial defence. On Friday, she learned of the possibility of going to Slovenia. She did not think long. "I hope, I can only hope, that my daughter and I will return home soon. And that my husband will survive. Everything else is less important now," Julie said wearily, summing up her feelings. "My daughter, a violinist and pianist, celebrated her birthday on the third day of the war. We come from Irpin, near Kiev, which was bombed by the Russians. At that time, bombs were already falling, especially on the nearby airport. So we put out the candles on the cake behind three walls, in the corridor of an apartment block. I did not want to disappoint my daughter. We are here today, but my husband has stayed in Kiev. I am confused and shocked," said Olga Mikoljuk, a red-haired woman, before boarding the bus to Ljubljana. She still cannot believe that her homeland has been engulfed in the fire of war. She especially cannot believe that Ukraine was invaded by Russia, where she has many relatives and friends.

This is not a school trip
Late on Sunday evening, the second bus - the drivers also did a great job - started its engine. In the warm interior of the bus, some exhausted girls fell asleep for the first time in days. Sleep of the righteous could hardly be more literal. Frozen cheeks thawed quickly. The silence that had been soaked with the beginnings of trauma was replaced by smiles and chatter. For a moment, it all resembled a school trip. Mine, yours, ours. Youth, joy, warmth, joy, love, innocence. But only for a moment. The project of evacuating young Ukrainian musicians from the war was initiated by the Slovenian Youth Orchestra, headed by the artistic director of the orchestra and conductor of the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet Orchestra Ljubljana, Ziva Ploi Peršuh, and her husband Tom Peršuh, producer of SMO. It was a guerrilla action, in which Slovenian diplomacy quickly and effectively - anything is possible, if the will is there! - got involved. "As soon as I saw that war had started in Ukraine, I felt that something had to be done. We decided on Thursday evening to try to rescue the members of the Ukrainian Youth Symphony Orchestra from Kiev, with whom we had already been working together," Živa Ploj Peršuh told us just moments after the second bus of young musicians had arrived in Ljubljana from the Ukrainian border, and the children had already settled in two Ljubljana youth hotels (Celica and Tresor). The Slovenian Youth Orchestra and all those involved in the evacuation are preparing for the long stay of the young Ukrainian musicians in Slovenia. According to Živa Ploj Peršuh, this will be based on immediate full integration into society - on living life to the full. Above all, on continuing to make music.