(Jason Jay Smart’s article appeared in the Kyiv Post, 7/7.)

Incredibly, due to years of Russian occupation, many Ukrainian soldiers do not recognize some of the “classic” Ukrainian songs that Benny Stewart sings for them when visiting the front. However, Stewart keeps performing with the certainty that more Ukrainian folk culture is a healthy respite and from the war they fighting and uplifting. What adds a degree of uniqueness to Stewart’s passionate support for Ukraine’s language, folk culture, and music is that he himself is an outlier: Stewart is not Ukrainian. He is an American without any Ukrainian roots.

Nonetheless, Stewart is a convinced and tireless evangelist of Ukraine’s traditions.

In the eyes of Stewart and much of the outside world, Ukrainians are fighting and dying to preserve the territory and border they acquired legally i in 1991. But for those on the ground, the war is not only about territory and sovereignty.  It’s also a war really a war in defense of national  identity – culture, language and history, things that Russian imperialists in whatever political shape have been trying to destroy for centuries.

Benya has visited the frontline five times with the Ukrainian organization UA Firstaid to deliver medical supplies and to perform and spend time with beleaguered troops. He co-founded the “From Ohio With Love” campaign which raised over $100,000 for humanitarian aid in the first year of the invasion. He has taught folk singing and performed all over Ukraine, most recently organizing a “de-occupation tour” of cities and towns in the Kharkiv region which endured Russian occupation.

(Visit)

 

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