A native Russian classical guitarist strums up a Ukraine benefit

Classical guitarist Alex Kapin will perform and be the featured speaker at a Wednesday, June 1, 2022 benefit for Ukraine in Charleston WV.

EVENT: Musical Benefit for Ukraine, featuring Alex Kapin and guests, including a call-in with Ukrainian friends.
WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, 2022
WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd. W, Charleston WV, 25302
NOTE: All contributions to support Ukraine


Alex Kapin was born and grew up in the Moscow area, studying classical guitar for five years and earning a certificate, then going on to teach the instrument to fellow Russians in cultural clubs and studios. He took his love of playing into restaurants and then the streets of Russia and beyond, serenading passersby and raising money for his living expenses.

“I played with my friend at different restaurants in Moscow, in duos and trios. Then, some people started to play in the Moscow subway. It was something new for us,” he said. “Then, I started to go to Sweden and Finland and Norway in the summer season. It was good.”

Much has changed since then, not all of it so good when it comes to his homeland. Kapin—now 61 and a new American citizen residing in Montgomery WV—will perform and host a benefit for Ukraine from 7 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd. W, Charleston WV.

Through the years, Kapin had moved back and forth, in and out of Russia, returning for a time to help his ailing parents who have since passed on. He has sought widely for a job in America as a classical guitar instructor, while giving thought to returning to Russia for a period, since he still had a Moscow apartment.

Then, Vladimir Putin ordered a massive invasion of Ukraine which began Feb. 24 of this year, alleging it would be only “a special military operation,” instead of the brutal mauling of the country it turned out to be. Appalled by the invasion, Kapin set aside any desire to return to his homeland.

“I told myself and everyone I wouldn’t want to go there. For me, it would be like saying I support this war.”


CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO

Here’s an excerpt performed by Alex Kapin of the Ukrainian folk song “Hackberry.”

He has set a benchmark for when he might return to Russia, he said. “I thought I will only go there after the Putin regime will be defeated and washed away.”

Kapin, who sometimes reaches to find the right word in English, said he might come up short were he to try and state in a secondary language his feelings about Ukraine and the suffering of its people.

“I haven’t the proper words. My heart is with Ukraine every moment, 100 percent. I knew how it was inside of Russia—I knew the huge military propaganda on TV. Many people are infected with this propaganda.”


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Alex Kapin at his first musical fundraiser for Ukraine in late April 2022 in Montgomery, WV.

Kapin has had a view inside and outside Russia for many years. He first came to America in 2010, after he won a green card lottery in Moscow. Wishing to engage in helpful service, he came to America to work on and off with the group Pick Up America, whose goal was to pick up trash from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the Pacific, cutting right across the breadth of America. The group’s trajectory brought then across West Virginia, where Alex made some lasting friendships.


My heart is with Ukraine every moment, 100 percent.


He earned his American citizenship in December 2021, and is staying right now with a friend in Montgomery WV, while continuing to seek work teaching guitar. Yet his passion to aid Ukraine has given him some other ideas, too, even as he has lost friendships with Russian acquaintances who support Putin’s misadventure.

“When this full-scale invasion started, some of my friends called me with words of support for the invasion—and I broke up with them. It’s very sad and painful. Now, I don’t think of my future. I just know I want to help Ukraine.”

He called the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington D.C., to see how he might help. They asked if he had military training. When he said he did not they suggested he help with humanitarian efforts. Instead of waiting to hear further—”Why should I wait? I will try to do something!” he thought—Kapin found a Facebook group working to get people out of Ukraine and out of harm’s way.

He found another group in Odessa that raises funds to supply Ukrainian soldiers with food and medicine, he said. “But they always need money to do this. Many volunteer groups don’t have enough money to buy a lot of things.”


The dual colors of the Ukranian flag have spread widely across the planet as a sign of support for the Ukrainian people and defiance of Putin’s invasion.

Kapin launched his first musical benefit April 26 in Smithers, featuring not just his instrumental playing, but him singing in Ukrainian the folksong “Hackberry.” It’s a song about lovers longing to meet one another in the hills at evening time. Yet in the current circumstances, it could just as easily speak to the longing of Ukrainians to return to their homeplaces, ending the separations among so many loved ones:

“Everywhere the hackberry is blooming. / Soon there will berries for the chewing. / In the orchard’s shadows, a girl awaits the shepherd, quietly awaits. / Sun is setting over the horizon, / Shepherd’s song is flowing from the mountain./ I will put the herds into the sheep pen. / Wait for me and I will come to you. (see full lyrics here.)

He’ll perform the tune at the Charleston benefit, among other instrumental pieces, while also stirring a discussion about Ukraine and the needs of its people, he said. “We will have an online video meeting with my Ukrainian friends, who are now in Ukraine and abroad, too. The goal is to listen their stories, and to tell them some words of support and encourage them.”

He plans to take a further step in his personal campaign of aid and awareness by traveling to Poland to join a group of ‘Russians For Ukraine,’ assisting with the arrival and relocation of refugees.

In the meantime, he hopes to stage further gatherings like the one in West Virginia’s capital, encouraging support and the donation of direct aid to groups on the ground in Ukraine, such as the Volunteer Movement of Odessa, which will be featured at Wednesday’s event.

What is happening in Ukraine is no small and local matter, said Kapin.

“This is not just a war against Ukraine. It is a war of barbarism versus civilization.”


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