Ukrainian singer Viktoria Leléka has never been to Israel before, but still hadn’t seen much beyond her hotel or the Park Hayarkon amphitheater where she performed Thursday night with her band, Leléka, and singer Ivri Lider to celebrate Europe Day.
“I want to get an idea of what Tel Aviv is like,” said Leléka, who added she planned on spending Friday tooling around the city before heading home to Berlin, where she has lived for the last seven years.
The Ukrainian-born artist was invited to perform at the Euro Party organized by the European Union Delegation to the State of Israel with Lider, with a portion of the proceeds going to support emergency services efforts by Magen David Adom in Ukraine.
The show was special, said Leléka, a sign of solidarity for Ukraine.
“I felt a responsibility knowing that this audience of people didn’t want to just have fun, but wanted to support Ukraine,” she said.
Leléka is a collaboration of musicians from Poland and Germany, playing an unusual mix of European jazz and Ukrainian folk, creating an experimental sound full of improvisation.
Their albums regularly include traditional Ukrainian music, such as “Karchata,” an old Ukrainian folk song that is the first track in their new album “Sonce u Serci” (Sun in the Heart).
Leléka tends to also sing “Plyve Kacha” at many concerts, an anti-war song included in Leléka’s 2017 album.
The song is a conversation between a mother and her son, their last before he goes off to war.
“He knows that he will die,” said Leléka. “It’s the weeping of the mother.”
Singing the song, a sorrowful, heartfelt piece, is like therapy for her, said Leléka.
“There’s always a silent minute for the audience that I don’t request, and it’s a moment where I can express something that the people of Ukraine are feeling, and that all mothers feel if they lose their children,” said Leléka. “A mother is so universal. Mothers have no nationality and I just wish in my heart that we could all live in peace and never again have mothers who lose their children.”
While Leléka has lived in Germany for seven years, her family was living in Ukraine at the outbreak of the war.
She spent the first weeks of the war working to evacuate them to safety, including her sister with three children who were living in Kyiv, her mother and physically-challenged grandmother who hadn’t traveled anywhere in many years, and her father in the eastern region of Donbas, where Leléka grew up.
She brought them all to Germany, settling each family unit in different villages around the country.
Leléka is still in close contact with friends in Ukraine, and tends to spend a lot of time on her phone in an attempt to help where she can.
The Euro Party concert in Tel Aviv offered a different perspective to her own reality, said Leléka.
“I think every action, every concert helps,” she said. “Sometimes I get so tired, because there are so many refugees and so many problems and it’s easy to lose hope. But then you see people in another country gathering to celebrate Ukrainian culture, you feel like you’re not alone, that people care. Maybe there is no solution, but it helps to talk about it.”
Leléka also reflected on performing in Israel, a country she has only read about in the headlines, where she saw people dressed in military uniforms on the street.
“If it’s not your country or your problem, it’s really difficult to understand,” she said. “I often think about being away from Ukraine, wishing I could be more useful, but my friends tell me to keep singing in the world, to show how beautiful Ukrainian culture is.”