Free the Children: Concert in South Africa to Draw Attention to Deported Ukrainian Children. 

On March 21, a concert called Free the Children took place in South Africa. Famous South African performers, the band The Soil and the singer Langa Mavuso, together with Ukrainian artists, including the Eurovision 2024 National Selection participant band YAGODY, performed to draw attention to the more than 19,500 Ukrainian children illegally deported by Russia.

The concert was attended by over 1,500 spectators. One of the brightest moments of the event was the joint performance by the band YAGODY and the South African artists of Shosholoza – a song of the South African miners and the unofficial anthem of South Africa, which is a symbol of the struggle of millions of South Africans for their rights. 

The concert was organised by the Ukrainian Institute in partnership with the South African private non-profit fund NIROX. 

Director General of the Ukrainian Institute, Volodymyr Sheiko explained how he believes that art and culture can help bring people together.  He said: “South Africans and Ukrainians live far away from each other, but over the past few days we have seen how the power of music transcends borders and brings us closer together. I hope that South Africa’s own troubled past will help you better understand and relate to Ukraine’s struggle for freedom. I have been moved by your compassion and support and believe this concert will contribute to a closer friendship between our countries.” 

The Free the Children concert was part of an artistic and civic collaboration that aims to establish stronger connections between Ukrainian and South African artists and activists. Among the participants were the band YAGODY, the South African acapella band The Soil, Anastasiya Voytyuk (bandura), Langa Mavuso, Tubatsi Moloi, AusTebza, Itai Hakim, Mpumi Mama Drum and Modise Sekgothe. 

Zoryana Dybovska, leader of the band YAGODY: 

During our team’s stay in South Africa, we noticed how important it is to get acquainted with different cultures through personal experience, because often our ideas are full of stereotypes and prejudices. There are things that definitely unite our countries – the fact that the people of both states strive to grow, and also to remain unique and free. Therefore, the cooperation between South Africa and Ukraine is incredibly important in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The world must know about Ukraine firsthand.” 

South African musician, Itai Hakim, said: “As South African artists, it’s become important to understand our responsibility in contributing to the liberation of many across the world, in the same way much of the world came to our aid in the course of our struggles.” 

Part of this collaboration was a month-long art residency for two Ukrainian artists at the Kromdraai Creativity Impact Hub. The residency was attended by Anastasiya Voytyuk, a bandura player and singer, and Serhii Petliuk, a media artist. As part of the residency program, the Ukrainian artists, in particular, created a musical product together with children from local communities, which is intended to inspire a global movement for the freedom of children, #FreeTheChildren. 

Anastasiya Voytyuk, singer, bandura: 

Cooperation with artists from South Africa is a bridge to friendship between our countries, which is very valuable during the war against Ukraine. Through music, we learn about the culture and history and the current situation of our countries. We have a lot of similar pain, but also similar methods of struggle – we draw energy from singing, community, responsibility for each other, we do not give up. This experience was very new and deep for me, and the Ukrainian bandura found new spaces for sounding. Our music has both a lot in common and different, and at this concert it merges into one stream.” 

Also, from March 16 to 23, a delegation of Ukrainian child rights experts visited South Africa. The delegates include the co-founder of the Voices of Children Foundation Azad Safarov and Ksenia Kornienko, a human rights lawyer from the Regional Human Rights Center NGO. They explored how South Africa can help find abducted Ukrainian children on the territory of Russia, use international mechanisms for their return, and bring the perpetrators of the abduction to justice. The delegation met with South African human rights defenders and legal experts, including the Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.