When Andrii Koshman, a Ukrainian musician and classical opera baritone found his way to Europe in the fall of 2022, as a war refugee he wasn’t sure if he could continue working in his field for much longer. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic made things even worse. A combination of EU support policies, a creative spirit and little bit of innovation, led to solutions he could never before imagine. Andrii And his band are now thriving again across the EU!
Andrii is the concert director of Nova Opera, a group of young Ukrainian artists aiming to develop new ways of music theatre. Before the war started the group was in the making of a new project with partners from Greece, Croatia and Ukrainian based musicians. Just before their final rehearsal their plans took an unexpected turn.“Nova Opera was developing a project on the work of the Greek philosopher Socrates, back in 2021 with Greek director, Elli Papakonstantinou” Andrii remembers. “Kiev was a wonderful place to work on these things. In terms of facilities, state support and prices it was ideal. The project was going well and we reached our final rehearsal on February 23rd. But the next morning the war arrived”.
The project was postponed, since none of the partners could travel to the country anymore. But the band couldn’t leave the country unless they continued with another project. The group moved to Lviv, where they randomly met Myroslav Laiuk, a renowned Ukrainian poet and asked him to create a libretto for their next opera. In just one night the libretto was ready.
After two weeks, Nova Opera’s composer created the full score of the musical performance, where they included sounds of sirens and even taught how to sing it. The way to Europe and a safe environment was now open.
In April 2022 Andrii and his team arrived in Greece, after a long road trip that lasted two weeks. But they came on a special status and a special role. The Ukrainian government gave permission to artists to leave the country and fight on the cultural front to spread Ukrainian culture and the message to end the war. The EU supported them to achieve that.
“We were on a three month visa, since we had temporary protection in Greece. So we needed to go back to Ukraine every three months. Now as we continue to develop projects we can stay here as long as war exists in our country.”
We met Andrii in Athens, a few days after he arrived from a tour in Europe, at Romantso, after the publication of the European Commission’s new report on the Status and Working Conditions of Artists and Cultural and Creative Professionals. The report gives a glimpse into the working, social and living conditions of artists and creative professionals in the Continent.
The overall image of the report sketches a rather precarious standard of living for most creative professionals based on projects rather than full employment. But how is that reflecting on the lives of the most vulnerable, the artists coming from a war zone? How did Andrii and Nova Opera make it for more than a year and what were their current status and working conditions?
"Europe has a very similar mentality with Ukraine. For us only a few things actually changed” says Andrii. Andrii works as a freelancer, has social security, can attend any public hospital for free, pays taxes in his country and has a pension plan for when he returns back to Ukraine. Most importantly Nova Opera are still commissioned for concerts and new productions.
Nova Opera were finally staged at Romantso, a Creative Hub in downtown Athens where they could have rehearsals, the main reason to stay in Greece. The Hub provided them with music equipment and even a concert hall to perform. Τhe most important thing: a space with piano, drums, audio systems and a concert hall to give live performances.At the moment he is working on contemporary opera projects, but also an educational project with universities across Europe. Although Andrii managed to maintain his overall professional status but also his standard of living there was one thing missing, that he dealt with… innovation: teaching! The project based economy is good to keep Andrii and Nova Opera going but does little to integrate them into the local cultural systems, even if that would be for the benefit of local musicians too. Andrii spent most of the time in COVID-19 disappointed to leave his students in Kiev without the necessary lessons.
Everybody was tele-working but you can’t do that in opera teaching mainly due to the delays in the transmission of the signal through regular apps and the poor sound that goes though. “But can there not be any rich sound applications available” thought to himself before he started a research he would never have imagined before. He spotted an app that allows him to teach in gaming forums, talking to gamers online! Andrii found a way to continue teaching at the National Music Academy of Ukraine from Greece through a gaming app which provides the highest quality of sound with the minimum delay.“Art is an international language. I am glad that when I arrived in Europe I could continue working on my field and create music. It is to our advantage, as artists, that we could continue our work in the field of arts and weren’t forced to change our jobs to survive” he says about his current living status.
Andrii would love to find a way to teach in Greece, but so far hasn’t found the infrastructure to further proceed. Sketching his life conditions for us he wishes to see more funding opportunities for artists and specifically contemporary opera musicians. “The field of contemporary music is less renowned in Greece, I believe” he says “Nova Opera would love to contribute more to the opera music scene of Athens”.