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Ukrainian opera singer launches Refugee Festival Scotland in Glasgow

Ukrainian opera singer whose dad is still in the war-torn country helped kick off Refugee Festival Scotland in Glasgow today.

Oksana Mavrodii, a soprano singer who is also Deputy Conductor of the Glasgow Male Philharmonic Choir, is among the performers taking part in the event, which runs from June 17 to 26.

Oksana has organised fundraising concerts to support people affected by the war in her home country. She is working with the Scottish Refugee Council and communities in Scotland to help welcome refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

She said: “When I heard about Refugee Festival Scotland, I wanted to get involved. During the hard times, it’s important to stand up and use your voice. Being a musician, music is the best way for me to do that and the festival is a really great platform.

“Being a refugee or asylum seeker can be perceived negatively but we should not treat refugees as a burden. Just because someone is a refugee, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have skills to bring. People are often highly skilled and highly educated and they could make a really valuable contribution to society.”

Oksana added: “I’ve worked with a lot of children who have come to Scotland as refugees from Syria and other places. Now many Ukrainians have become part of the refugee community. My mum is here with me but my dad and all the rest of my family are still in Ukraine. It’s surreal. I don’t think anyone expects to find themselves in that situation. The response from people in Scotland has been amazing though. You don’t need to ask twice. It’s been positively overwhelming.”

In a year which has seen a record 100 million people forced from their homes by conflict, Refugee Festival Scotland aims to bring together people from different backgrounds and highlight the many ways refugees contribute to life here in Glasgow and around the country.

More than 100 events will take place across Scotland, including contributions from artists and performers who came here seeking refugee protection and the communities that have welcomed them.

Oksana will be performing at a special Refugee Festival Scotland event alongside concert pianist Iryna Melnychenko, who recently arrived in Glasgow from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The pair will be joined by Trainspotting sequel T2 actor, Thierry Mabonga.

Thierry said: “I’m really happy that Refugee Festival Scotland exists. It’s very important that there’s a space for people to share stories that might not otherwise get told. There’s more to a human being than trauma. We need to see the joys as well as the grief and the conflicts and the challenges of someone’s situation. I think that’s what keeps us alive. We long for stories that make us laugh and smile as well as make us cry.”

Thierry came to Scotland when he was just eight years old after fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo with his family.

He added: “I arrived not speaking a word of English, so I can understand the struggles of having to move country and start again. You’re not in control of where you come from, but you are in control of how you respond to that. Being part of two cultures can be complex but it’s made me the person I am today.”

Refugee Festival Scotland events include music and dance, history trails and nature walks, plus art exhibitions, cookery demonstrations, football tournaments and family-friendly picnics.

Scottish Refugee Council Chief Executive, Sabir Zazai said: “Refugee Festival Scotland is an opportunity to celebrate the positive difference refugees make to our communities.

“This has been a year of terrible stories. War in Ukraine, unrest in Afghanistan, families stranded and separated by bureaucracy, Rwandan detention centres and people left with no option but to risk their lives on dangerous journeys in a desperate bid to reach a place of safety.

“But there are other, happier stories, and these are the ones that Refugee Festival Scotland aims to tell – stories of friendship, resilience, hope and new beginnings.”

Refugee Festival Scotland is produced by Scottish Refugee Council. Details of the 2022 festival programme are available at refugeefestivalscotland.co.uk

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