It is not uncommon for authoritarian personalities to shake their sabers to intimidate their neighbors. In the case of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, threats turned into action in February when Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
This Sunday, the Greater Litchfield Opera House Association presents “Signs, Sounds & Cuisine of Peacetime Ukraine” from 1-4 p.m. at the Litchfield Opera House, 136 N. Marshall Ave. Free entry.
This event is an opportunity to discover the history and culture of this Eastern European country through music, words and images.
Svetlana Potapova Davis, symphonic violinist, who studied music at the Kyiv Conservatory and obtained a master’s degree in teaching and performance at the National Academy of Music of Ukraine, will perform Ukrainian folk music. She now lives in the Twin Cities where she teaches music – violin, viola and piano – and performs with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra.
Award-winning photographer Ralph Hallquist will share his images of Ukraine while providing insights and insights.
And did I mention dessert?
“We’ll bring dessert,” he said. “Kyiv cake. It’s a delicious confection, very similar to the Black Forest cake with a chocolate base, a wonderful cream filling and a beautiful icing. It’s really tasty. We know a wonderful pastry chef from Ukraine and she will make them for the occasion.
Hallquist is a local, born in St. Cloud, attended kindergarten and first grade at Hutchinson, then headed to Litchfield where he graduated with the class of 1968.
Sunday’s program grew out of Hallquist’s long-standing friendship with Dean and Karin Urdahl.
“She and her husband, Dean, have been my friends since their college days,” he said. “We were close friends in high school. You get to know other people’s families. They were close to my late wife. When I remarried a lady from Ukraine, they got to know her. We were talking about the war one day, when Brent Schacherer (managing director of the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review) was sitting at another table. We were introduced and one thing led to another.
We all know the destruction shown on television. Hallquist thought that if people could see what Ukraine looked like before the bombs were dropped, it might bring a better understanding. He told Karin Urdahl that he had collected thousands of images since 2008.
“I had been to the Opera several times,” he said. “I told him I would be willing to hang them on the wall and let people see. The idea snowballed from there.
Hallquist intends to give his presentation in three segments, with musical interludes, so people can walk around and watch the footage. It expects to have around 55 images, creating a mini-gallery experience.
“The stress of my comments (will be) here are some quick and fun facts you didn’t know about Ukraine,” he said. ” ‘How did it happen ?’ will be the thread of the conversation. It started in 1922 to get us to this point – 100 years on the nose. These steps to sum up are a series of oppression and repression against Russia and it has gone back and forth for 100 years. This has led to countless deaths in Ukraine.
Hallquist said Russia has traditionally — going back at least to the time of the Crimean War in 1853 — destroyed everything in its path. This is what viewers have seen happening in eastern Ukraine over the past four months.
Hallquist said he hopes his presentation will show how this cycle has repeated itself over the past century.
“We should have no illusions that there is no compromise here that will guarantee peace in the future,” he said. “I hate being political, tyrants throughout history have been very public about their plans – Stalin, Hitler and Mao. They would do anything by any means to achieve their ends. Putin was very clear and it’s very clear that its purpose extends beyond Ukraine. We shouldn’t kid ourselves. It’s the price people pay for looking the other way.
Hallquist and his wife, Tetiana, who live in Sacramento, Calif., had a front row seat during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His mother and sister live in the capital of Kyiv.
When the war broke out, their family members took refuge in the corridors of their cement buildings. Windows were blown out and basements flooded due to broken water pipes.
“They had to flee at the start of the war,” he said. “It was quite a journey. If you can imagine driving through a country – almost the size of Texas – at night with just your parking lights on and navigating by cellphone, with messages like “tanks on this road” passing by. They reached the Polish border and were wonderfully received. Through his mother’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, they were placed with a family who provided them with a room outside of Prague, Czech Republic. After about 90 days, they returned home. The return was only half scary. Their two apartments were not ransacked.
Initially, communication was difficult between Ukraine and California due to patchy coverage, but has since returned to normal.
“We see videos that don’t make the news,” Hallquist said. “His sister is particularly good at sending information such as ‘Here is a scene of such-and-such.’ A video she sent shortly after they returned to Kyiv, she stood at her apartment window, watching a Russian missile hitting a main rail yard about a mile from her apartment, she captured it.
“The violence is so random and unpredictable,” he continued. “A town – worthless in the middle of nowhere – gets hit by four missiles and nothing happens after that. It’s very random. I think that’s part of the plan – psychological terror.
The next step for Hallquist? Retirement.
“I hope to be retired soon,” he said. “I’ve lived in 12 cities across the country, two of them twice. My career has taken me to different places. I’m president and general manager of a dairy processor similar to Kemp’s and Land O’ Lakes. We process milk for convenience stores, restaurants and grocery stores.
And when it comes to Ukraine’s future, “I don’t think the last chapter is written,” he said.
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