A Survivor from Bucha: story of violinist Mariana Hlieva

On April 2, Ukrainian authorities informed that the entire Kyiv region had been liberated from the russian occupiers. During the last 40 days of the war, terrible crimes of genocide against the Ukrainian people were revealed. A resident of Bucha, one of the cities most affected by russian aggression, Mariana Hlieva, a music teacher, head of the string instruments department at the Bucha School of Arts, violinist of the string quartet and early music ensemble, shared her experience:

Did you know that the air alarm sound is not only atonal and arrhythmic, but also untempered its beginning is a quarter of a tone lower than “C1”, and the end is 9 cents higher than “A”? This is how our life looks now, devoid of structure, meaning, logic, and harmony. 

Mariana Hlieva with her pupils. Source: social media of the musician


I recall where it all started with an unsuitable, shrill phone call at 5am in the morning. “It’s started”, briefly said my mother’s voice, running as if by an electric shock to my heels. It can’t be true, it can’t be, it can’t be! All the “experts”, of all the nerves, said that nothing would happen. We have tickets to Valencia for the day after tomorrow. I just played Legrenzi and started Geminiani! I’m training Mykyta for the competition; he already played his variations well yesterday I had just bought him a normal violin. In a few days, my junior ensemble will play a song about a little train for the first time on stage! I refused to leave “just in case” earlier, because how can I throw away students who have just “hatched” and there is hope for a decent “harvest”? How can everything start so suddenly and without warning, without letting us finish things and prepare?

All these thoughts, like boiling water, enter the head, and the body lies paralysed by fear. Maybe it’s a mistake, a nightmare; just small terrorist attacks, followed by anxiety and the usually worried speeches of politicians big, loud and empty, like ancient ceramics?

The stages of rejection and procrastination, however, in our area of ​​the city, which lies just a couple of kilometres from the airport, did not last long. The SOUND was heard. And after him more and more.

Anyone who has ever heard shots and explosions knows that in a thousand seconds when the sound begins to ring, the brain has time to wonder why its volume increases so much, breaking out of the common decibel level, and at the end of the shot the brain has time to prepare an adrenaline-cortisol cocktail of primitive animal uncontrollable horror.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been rather safe, but I still flinch from unexpected noises, and a car driving under a window at night cancels all my attempts to fall asleep.

Burnt out russian military vehicles in the Ukrainian town of Bucha

Now that my city is under occupation, houses have been destroyed and robbed, and residents’ bodies are scattered, it’s ridiculous to mention that while fleeing, I didn’t take a hairbrush and toothbrushes, but wrote an application for “unpaid leave”. To not be credited with truancy is necessary because we have been trained by the bureaucracy of budgetary institutions.

And then the inglorious and panicked escape began no one knew what to take, because absolutely all things were considered inappropriate in a state of war, and where to find such a suitcase to fit all your life? Miraculously, I took the violin at the last moment the day before I had come home from work sick and exhausted, so I’d successfully left it in the hallway underfoot.

What I regret most, it’s the instruments. I have been collecting violins for years to give to those scholars whose parents cannot afford to buy them.

“My second instrument, the violin, which came to me from my schoolteacher, has probably joined the former owner of the heavenly orchestra somewhere. At the end of World War II, he was among others awaiting execution in a concentration camp. As a kid, I didn’t understand what that meant.

How would he react to the news that history is repeating itself, and that those who bragged the most about their victory are now playing the role of the same Nazi invaders?”

I painfully think that my son’s cello has died. It was brand new, only a week old. I have always treated cellos like fine, intelligent people their deep and thoughtful souls are enclosed in terribly fragile and uncomfortable shells.


Three days of gruelling journeys to nowhere, and here we are in a cold hotel between the mountains, the walls of which are weeping from within, sympathizing with our status as internally displaced persons. Three sleepless days and endless shock, scrolling news and calls to relatives. This journey without a definite endpoint was like launching into the darkness of outer space.

I remember my children and I were falling out of a car onto a city street we didn’t even know existed dirty aliens with uncombed hair, big frightened eyes and tremors in their limbs. On Sunday, beautifully dressed people were leaving the church, talking and laughing with each other. Such striking dissonance that I wanted to slap their sleeves and shout “Do you even know what happened there?”


The unprecedented rascality of attack and the high speed of events could not be dreamt of in the most absurd of night horrors. In a few days, russians spread like a terrible infection through the narrow, sleepy streets of our towns. The very fact of fighting in our most civilian neighbourhoods in the universe still looks absolutely unearthly. Thousands of people, including our relatives, were trapped in occupation.

Evacuation between Ukrainian towns Bucha and Irpin. March 4, 2022. Фото: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

It turns out that the worst thing about war is not the shots. But the fact that all our modern, civilized life turns off along with the first wire break. You immediately find yourself in darkness, cold and isolation. Everything human is washed away at once, and you become a kind of primordial creature in a completely unsuitable position for this beautiful concrete box. A packet of pasta is more expensive than a gold ingot; a bucket of water exceeds the most expensive wines, and even the minimal signal of a mobile network is almost Jesus’s Coming. Our civilization only hinders us in war.

Disoriented, hidden under stairs or in barns, stunned by the cannonade, my relatives asked me what was happening and what to do next. And I was looking for information on how to get out of the trap. I was trying to recall where we had power banks, cereals and how to protect the windows. Awareness of hopelessness and helplessness kept me awake at night.

Along with electricity, water and gas, people lost hope and desperately went under bullets, trying to get out of the russian-occupied city. Many were shot, especially those in cars, their bodies were not allowed to be buried, they were mined. I am scared to think about the final number of dead civilians when it will be possible to count all the victims. The dead lay in the middle of the streets, in the shot-up cars, in the yards. “Subscriber cannot receive your call at the moment” and this damn unread “How are you?”. My heart is still pounding not all my students and acquaintances got in touch, although it was possible to leave.


I kept my mind mobilized for a long time, solving the current problems of life support for my relatives quite successfully, but the moment of failure came. I’m dialling the number of my dear Heorhii Petrovych. He says he is glad to hear me, and I promise him the moon if he agrees to leave Kyiv. All in vain. With detached spontaneity, proper for children and the elderly, he asks “Maybe you want to come and play Mozart for me?” .This innocent question cut me like a knife, hurt me physically I realized that our life, all his hopes, aspirations, all that we have built, is destroyed to the ground, scattered in the wind like worthless papers, trampled by a stupid evil russian horde, which for centuries has existed simply with dreams of seizing and appropriating neighbouring lands, and if it fails to take them away then at least spoil.

Desperately trying to catch my breath while tears rolled down my cheeks, I said to the teacher that I just wanted to try to save him as a valuable treasure of civilization. “Keep practising” and I can no longer answer because of the treacherous spasm that grips my chest. Can music overcome the horde of intellectually disabled thieves who came not only to take away my land, but also to destroy culture, freedom, and civilization, to erase us from the maps? What can be said about plague bacteria, whose purpose is invasion and murder?

The retreat of russian forces leaves hundreds of civilian corpses. Photo by Reuters

Sometimes I take my violin, but I can’t concentrate. Frightening thoughts run away; the heart beats fast, sticky despair whispers that it makes no sense.

“Somewhere along the border that divided Europe into a zone for people confident in a comfortable future, and for those who do not deserve security, smiling colleagues organize concerts “for peace, friendship and all good things”, hypocritically fraternizing with the bearers of the “great Russian culture”.”

Respectable ladies and gentlemen discuss how to “sit on all the chairs” and to save their faces or currency from the generous treasury. They collect redemption to appease the conscience, and this is a reliable path other people have benefits, and they do not need to make extreme efforts. I hope they won’t forget all the bloody contracts that are so hard to give up.

And while we are here, clutching our miserable bows in helpless rage, we are trying our best to overcome the desire to swap places with them, so that they finally understand that the missile flying to your city leaves no room for compromise. We need to preserve our dreams, and our humanity, even if we temporarily need to change the bow to a mortar, and wait for times when muses will be needed more than guns. We are bound to live in the range of a quarter of a tone below “C” to 9 cents above “A”.

Header photo: libkos

Read also:

• Ukrainian music sounds in the world during the war

• 30 during 30. The most significant classical music works written during Ukrainian Independence

Leonid Hrabovsky: “Kyiv Avant-Garde was a historical group, but paved the way for future generations”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *