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How Ukrainian conductor created kids choir in Krakow

In this article, shares the story of Olena Radko — Ukrainian, who moved from Kyiv after full-scaled invasion and made a kid’s choir in Krakow. The woman shared the story of creation the group, performances for Polish president and told how to sign up for the choir.

Life before 24th of February

Before full-scaled invasion, Olena Radko lived in Kyiv and worked as a head of Kyiv Academic Puppet Theater. Also, she was leading the amateur chamber choir „MORAVSKI” for five years. Olena — a conductor and choirmaster with 20 years of experience — started doing her favorite thing from the second year of study at the Kyiv Music Academy.

Olena Radko

The conductor with her family moved from Kyiv to Mukachevo (little motherland of her husband) on the second day of full-scaled invasion, but air alarms forced the woman to move forward. So Olena and her children ended up in Krakow.

Moving to Krakow

Olena admits that in the beginning it was extremely difficult, because the family changed their apartment five times in Krakow. „Nothing in the world happens by chance. One family, where I lived for a while, helped me to find a permanent place to stay and work. It was happiness!”, the woman says.

Belief that everything will be over in one month and the family will come back home disappeared. The question of financing the family appeared instead. „I tried to find a job, but it is very difficult without a good knowledge of language,” Olena emphasizes.

In spring, kids went to school and the conductor dedicated all her time looking for a job and making music classes for Ukrainians in Art club – these were impromptu meetings with small children.

Happy meeting 

“I was lucky to get acquainted with three wonderful polish families, who made a huge impact to our life: staring from finding an apartment to organizing meeting with director of Philharmonic”, — shares Olena.

Through a chain of acquaintances and recommendations, the woman managed to get an interview with the director of the Philharmonic, Mateusz Prendota. It was him who proposed to create a choir of Ukrainian children in Krakow Philharmonic, whose conductor Olena became. „It was an initiative of both the Philharmonic and its director. Mr. Mateusz has his own children, so he really wanted to help Ukrainians, to make the lives of little refugees better.”

„At first glance, this is quite risky idea, to form a children’s choir of Ukrainians in another country. The question arose whether there will be enough people, to join” the woman continues. But more children were gathered than the organizers could have imagined.

Creation of choir

In order to gather children, there was made an advertisement, which was shared on social media pages, Ukrainian groups and chats and in the Philharmonic website. 

The conductor says: “Almost everyone who came, stayed in choir”.

Children who have experience and those who have never sung before come to choir lessons.

Some parents also participated in the work of the choir. One of the mothers turned out to be a pianist and played for free for the children during classes. Olena notes: „It is as important for parents as it is for children. They are here in their environment, they feel as if they are at home. First of all, through the language, because when you come somewhere and hear Ukrainian, you immediately love these people and trust them.”

A center of happiness in the midst of war

There are members from every part of Ukraine in the choir. The program is fast and busy so the children are working at the same level as professional performers. 

Currently the choir meets two times per week for rehearsal. “From the very beginning I understood there will be children from different cities and regions, so the most important was to make them feel free here. I want them just to be kids here with their needs and wishes. Make them feel love here and want to come again and again. Motto of my life: there should be love in a team. After every rehearsal we are hugging – this is our tradition”, — says the conductor. 

Concerts and triumphs  

The first concert was in November in Krakow’s Philharmonic together with Polish boys’ choir. Later, with the same repertoire, kids went to Nowy Sonch – a town nearby Krakow. Olena recalls: “Kids were so excited before the first performance. We have prepared an interesting program with Ukrainian music, including singing “Melody” by Myroslav Skoryk. Later there was a war song by Inna Franceskevych. They were crying on the stage while singing it. The audience was also crying and then gave standing ovations. After this, I’ve got a call with an invitation for some kids to record Christmas carols for TV”.

Staring from December, schedule became very busy.  

The choir took part in recording president’s concert on 16th of December. “The kids were delighted. They took autographs, made pictures with Andrzej Duda and got presents”, — says choirmaster. After the successful performance, the children started to prepare for Christmas holidays and made a new repertoire. The music for the performances was written by the Ukrainian composer Bohdan Kryvopust, who also appeared to be in Poland.

The conductor shares: “Children work as real professional musicians. Four performances per week — is a high tempo of work, but they like it, they are happy. The children have very interesting concert life: they have already sung with orchestra, professional men’s choir and even took part in grand project, with more than 200 musicians on the stage.“

How does the choir function now

Olena works with two age groups. The youngest is from 6 to 9 years old. „These are mostly children who are not mentally ready for two-hour „adult” rehearsals.  They need more rest and breaks.”

The older group is from 10 years old and up: „The oldest age is 15 years old. But recently, two girls, 18 and 19 years old, came to me. They like to sing next to the little ones.”

A total of 48 children of various ages attend the Olena Radko’s choir.

Anyone can join. To do so, you can come to the Philharmonic hall during the rehearsal or contact Olena Radko for an audition. Olena says: „We will teach you to sing, the main thing is to have a hearing.”

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of UA in Krakow and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of UNHCR. For more information on UNHCR and assistance available in Poland: 


Fundacja Instytut Polska-Ukraina

Klub Ukraiński w Krakowie - Fundacja Zustricz

The Jewish Community Centre of Krakow

Salam Lab, Laboratorium Pokoju.

Szlachetna Paczka -Pomoc potrzebującym - ubogim, dzieciom, seniorom, chorym i niepełnosprawnym.

NIĆ. Kawiarnio-księgarnia.