Iryna Levchenko played the bandura in Ukraine’s National Academic Orchestra of Folk Instruments for 20 years, but she and her daughter fled their country in 2022 after Russia invaded, and she hadn’t even hoped she might play again. 

Thanks to a local charity group, however, she is back to practicing and has announced her first concert will be at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at the Zion United Church on Main Street. 

Admission is by donation and will be rush seating.  

A group on Facebook called ‘Ukraine help and exchange in Moose Jaw’ helped Levchenko and her family settle into life on the Prairies, as they’ve helped scores of other families. 

Iryna, her daughter Zlata, and her sister and nephew now call Moose Jaw home. She is putting on the concert as a thank-you to the friends and community who have welcomed and supported her family. 

“Thank you to everyone who did this for me,” Levchenko said. “Please come to my concert on May 18th, I will be glad to see you.” 

The idea of reuniting Levchenko with a bandura seemed impossible at first. Traditional, orchestral banduras are made almost exclusively in Lviv, Ukraine. 

Nevertheless, ‘Ukraine help and exchange in Moose Jaw’ has developed a wide-ranging network, and group organizers like Christy Schweiger decided to see what could happen. 

“We found out that in Saskatoon, they have a whole group of people learning how to play the bandura, and there’s a bigger community of bandura players there, but (all the banduras) seemed to be taken,” Schweiger explained. 

“Another community member named Anatoly, who teaches English for Iryna, he did a lot more research and found out there was a bandura being restored in Edmonton ... It took, I think, about three months to get it totally restored and they made a connection in Saskatoon, and she played it to make sure it was the instrument she wanted.” 

Overcoming that first step to find a Lviv-made bandura was amazing. However, the complex, many-stringed treasure came with a price tag of $3,500. 

That hurdle, too, was overcome with support by community members. A private donor stepped forward to give Iryna an opportunity to play again and give back to the community. The bandura is uncommon to most who live in Canada, but its sound is deep-seated in Ukrainian culture.  

The concert will bring familiarity and joy to many displaced Ukrainian people living in Moose Jaw and other parts of Canada. There are also many, many Moose Javians with Ukrainian roots who will be glad to hear the bandura. 

“I’m definitely looking forward to the concert,” Schweiger added. “It’ll be quite emotional. Iryna had a practice performance at a newcomer meet and greet, and there were some people only recently come to Moose Jaw. 

“And she played the Ukrainian national anthem on the bandura, and one of the ladies got really teary-eyed. ... It’s definitely a cultural thing, how symbolic and important an instrument it is to people from Ukraine.” 

Concert poster for bandura performance by Iryna Levchenko at Zion United Church on May 18