In an act of defiance on a Kyiv square where recent uprisings have scuppered Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine, an orchestra assembled before a small crowd on Wednesday to play the national anthem as Russian forces advanced on the city.
The Kyiv-Classic Symphony Orchestra also played an excerpt from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, on which the European Union’s anthem is based – a nod to the Ukraine government’s desire to move closer to Europe and away from Russia’s orbit.
Dozens of people gathered to watch on the central Maidan Square, some waving Ukrainian flags. They applauded when the national anthem was finished and a woman cried out “To Ukraine!”
Russian forces are advancing on the capital city from several directions, although heavy fighting in surrounding areas has slowed their progress.
Thousands of civilians have joined local defence units to support Ukraine’s armed forces and civilians in some areas under Russian control have gathered on streets to protest.
Moscow launched what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24 to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and remove what it says are dangerous nationalists in Kyiv.
Ukraine and its allies call Russia’s actions a brutal invasion that has killed hundreds of civilians and forced millions to flee abroad.
Kyiv has mostly been spared the heavy shelling that devastated parts of other urban centres including Kharkiv, Mariupol and Sumy, but Ukrainian forces are bolstering defences in anticipation of a full assault.
Wednesday’s concert was held on the vast square where thousands of Ukrainian protesters set up a tent city in 2013 and 2014 to oppose then-President Viktor Yanukovich’s shock decision to suspend talks with the EU and revive ties with Moscow.
More than 100 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces, and in 2014 Yanukovich was toppled and forced to flee the country.
A decade earlier, the square had been a major gathering place for participants in the so-called “Orange Revolution”, which overturned a disputed election won by Yanukovich and led to the pro-Western leader Viktor Yushchenko taking his place.