Valentina Lisitsa is lost in Donetsk

June 24, 2015 by norman lebrecht


Youtube’s favourite pianist has taken her vocal support for Russian dominance of the Ukraine two steps too far.

She has given a recital in Donetsk, socalled capital of the illegal breakaway statelet, the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

She was pictured in the company of the rebels’ military leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, an alleged war criminal who is presently on crutches, recovering from a battlefield injury.

This meeting may well have repercussions on what remains of her international concert career.

lisitsa zakharchenko

It is a sad sight for millions around the world who appreciate her musicianship.

Comments (44)

  1. Juro Knezic says:

    Valentina stands for TRUTH and bravery!!!
    American MOTHERS do your duties:
    Your “Monroe Doctrine” declared to the world that Yankees were BULLIES and they would bully all Latin America. Stop and read that Doctrine. Today you have evolved into the Anglo-American (5 Eyes) Empire which is bullying Russia to react and have WW III.
    Stop your Mad Military Machine Mothers of America!
    “…The increase in belligerent rhetoric between Russia and the US does not mean the world is at greater risk of nuclear confrontation,” the agency added, summarizing the Russian leader’s response….”
    See me on Facebook (as Juro Knezic) for full details. Pass it on.
    Juro GD Knežić (London, Canada) 20 June 2015

    1. Simon S. says:

      Is this a fake to discredit the Russian position even more?

      1. Furzwängler says:

        It’s just yet another Russo-troll. Just ignore him/her/it.

        1. James Reed says:

          Jesus, she just plays the piano. Since when is Playing the Piano a crime? Speaking as a former musician, I can say any good musician doesn’t play to make a political statement, they play because they love the music and want to express the music to the audience. I play for all people, I don’t tell my audience that only certain ethnicities can attend.

          You also support the starvation of Ethnic Russians in Winter in Donbass, by cutting off their food? Do you support their freezing to death when the NATO-supported regime in Kiev cut off their gas? Did you support the Maidan, the US-funded violent overthrow of a legitimately-elected government in Kiev?

          I suppose you also think anyone who opposes you is a “Russian troll.” Well, I live in Central Kansas, just off route 99, and I vote Tea Party.

          With people like you supporting such absurdity, no wonder Obama & RINO’s are bombing 10 different countries, soon to start another war in Ukraine.

  2. Mike says:

    I notice that in order to do so, she has cancelled an appearance with the orchestra in Aachen doing what the orchestra refers to as ‘a last minute cancellation’.
    I agree with Norman that this is sad.

    1. Alex LeFebre says:

      She played a concert in Paris night of 20th. I believe her concert in Aachen was with orchestra. How could have she rehearse if she was playing in Paris anyways?

    2. Alex LeFebre says:

      And what about this?
      You have 2 weeks ago supported what you are condemning Valentina for! In fact not at all: she pmays a real concert and this pianist just goes on streets, sets Russian flag on piano and does his thing. There clearly visible fighters around him. He gets an award and Valentina gets what?
      This video is shot in Donetsk as well.
      And is it OK to perform in presence of Tony Blair accused of war crimes by British Parlament? George Bush?

  3. Theodore McGuiver says:

    If it’s what she believes, then it’s consistent with her beliefs and not ‘too far’, at least not for her.

  4. V.Lind says:

    Sorry, but some of us have seen this coming from the get-go and the tone of Ms. Lisitsa’s commentary on Ukraine and its people. Glad you have finally seen the light.

  5. william osborne says:

    As the EU and NATO moved into Eastern Europe, it was only a matter of time before Russia would react. Aside from economic interests, the Crimea became the breaking point because Sevastopol is the home of Russia’s Third Fleet, responsible for the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Russia has had a naval base in Sevastopol since 1783.

    Russia is building a new base on its own territory in nearby Novorossiysk, which is to be completed in 2017. Shostakovich wrote a work for Nvorossiysk called “Nvorossiysk Chimes.” The town was occupied by the German Army in September 1942, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended the port for 225 days until the town was liberated in September 1943. The defense of the port prevented Nazi Germany from using it for supply shipments – a big help in the Battles of the Caucasus and Stalingrad which became the turning point of the war.

    “Nvorossiysk Chimes” is a nice piece. You can listen to it at the url below. The orchestra comes in at 28 seconds. Note the excellent quality of the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine:

    The people in that part of the world have been through so much in the last century. I hope peace comes to them soon.

  6. Anon says:

    Attendance appears to have been some thousands, from what I can see-

    Footage from other major public events in ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ (9th of May in particular) show significant amount of public attendance as well, and polls are also showing that a great deal of people in the separatist regions indeed do not wish to remain part of Ukraine as things stand. And since you’re on the topic of war crimes – the side of this conflict that has been using forbidden cluster bombs, air-bombed cities, shelled mindlessly into populated areas etc etc happens to be the Ukrainians. Most recently, several former members of the Ukrainian army switched side – it wouldn’t surprise me if it would happen more often from now on.

    What precisely are Zakharchenko’s war crimes, and who has accused him of making them? And how do they stand in comparison to air-bombing major cities and using forbidden cluster bombs…? Let us know, Norman.

    1. Simon S. says:

      As power in Donetsk and Luhansk has been seized by a bunch of hooligans who are far from granting freedom of speech, no one can tell what people there really think (though it should be a rather safe bet to assume that most of them simply want peace and everyday’s life turning back to normal and care less about the colour their region has on the maps).

      Furthermore, we should not only consider the opinion of those who chose to remain there and defy the horrors of war, but also of these who preferred to temporarily move to a safer environment – they are also people of the Donbas. It might be telling that (according to UNHCR figures) one third of them sought shelter in Russia, but two thirds in other parts of Ukraine.

      1. Anon says:

        The initial power-seizure of a bunch of hooligans happened in Kiev as far as I recall, and in spite of having reached a deal between the opposition and the elected president, there was a seizure of power which was not in accordance with Ukraine’s institution. There may have been applause in the West and in various parts of Ukraine, but most certainly not in Luhansk and Donetsk, overall. If you haven’t seen local support among civilans for separatism in the east of Ukraine, you must have been sleeping. How do view videos as these – are all those people planted there by the Kremlin?

        Referendum in Mariupol-

        As for public opinion in general in separatist-controlled areas, it is naturally not easy to make a general assessment. However, please take a note of this survey from April last year, and pay close attention to table 3, comparing Donbas with other regions of Ukraine:

        The differences are startling. Less than 10% in Donbas respond that they are for maintaining the current status in the unitary Ukraine with current authority. Counted together, the three options given for separatism (federalization, forming an independent state, joining another state) get a majority support. Later reports show similar figures.

        As for the refugee situation, it should be clarified that the vast majority of refugees have gone either to Russia or moved elsewhere WITHIN Donetsk and Luhansk, as opposed to other regions of Ukraine:,UNHCR,MAP,UKR,557ff7884,0.html

        I would also assume that most people crossing the border to Poland, Belarus and other neighboring countries might not be doing it because of the conflict in the other half of the country. UN has stated that the Ukraine crisis made Russia the world’s single largest recipient of asylum requests last year.

      2. Olassus says:

        They did vote, remember?

    2. Peter McCready says:

      Vitaliy Yuriyovych Zakharchenko (Ukrainian: Віталій Юрійович Захарченко; born January 20, 1963)[4] is a Russian[5] politician who is a senior consultant at Russia’s Rostec state corporation. He previously served as Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs[6][7] from 7 November 2011 until he was suspended from duties by the Ukrainian parliament on 21 February 2014.[8] In that position, he was the head of the Ukrainian national police service, the Militsiya.

      Police Major General Vitaliy Zakharchenko[9] was born in Kostiantynivka, in the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union. He was graduated from the Riga branch of the Minsk Higher School of Interior of the USSR in 1991.[10][11] He began his career with the police in the Donetsk Oblast in July 1981.[9][11][12] From May 2008 to June 2010 he held leading positions in the State Tax Administration in Poltava Oblast.[11] President Viktor Yanukovych appointed Zakharchenko as head of the State Tax Administration of Ukraine on 25 December 2010.[9][13] On 7 November 2011 the president appointed him Minister of Internal Affairs, replacing Anatolii Mohyliov who had been named the new Prime Minister of Crimea;[6][7] simultaneously, Yanukovych appointed Oleksandr Klymenko as head of the State Tax Administration of Ukraine.[14] The Ukrainian parliament suspended Zakharchenko from his duties on 21 February 2014 for using “violence” against protesters in the February 2014 Euromaidan riots.[8][15][16] Five days later an arrest warrant was put out for him and he is currently wanted on murder charges.[17][18] Since then he was last seen in Russia on 13 April 2014.[19]

      According to Ukrainian media Zakharchenko is a close friend of President Yanukovych’ son, Viktor Viktorovych Yanukovych,[9][11][12] though President Yanukovych, through his press service, has denied that he appoints individuals to top government positions based on their personal loyalty and closeness to his family rather than qualifications.[20] Since he is an officer of the Interior Ministry, he is not allowed to be a member of a political party.[1][2]

      There is a suspicion that the minister owned the single active golden ore deposit in Muzhievo, Zakarpattia Oblast.[21]

      Vitaliy Zakharchenko former Minister of Interior. Sought since February 2014. Wanted for murder and mass complicity in the events in Kyiv (Kiev) the early 2014 when President Yanukovych fled to Russia. [22][23][24]

      According to the, on 16 January 2015 Zakharchenko was planning to arrive in Sevastopol for a celebration of establishment of Berkut police anti-riots unit and present his charity fund “Yugo-Vostok” (South-East).[25]

      1. ron says:

        Vitaliy Yuriyovych Zakharchenko?

        == name of the head of Donetsk separatist republic is Alexander Zakharchenko – looks like your Zakharchenko has nothing to do with Zakharchenko on photo, lol – this sirname is widespread in Ukraine…but nice try anyways, lol !!!

  7. Peter says:

    Should we make a list of all the US artists that played at the front in Vietnam?
    That was in a criminal and senseless war on another continent. Not a war on their home turf… Where does all this double standard come from? Who started to stir unrest in Ukraine anyway? Hint: it was not Russia…

  8. Karen says:

    Re: “…Russian dominance of the Ukraine …”
    Sigh, such a misinformed, misguided statement.
    See: “Propaganda Reigns in the West” :
    Counterpunch is another site with good sources of information.

    1. Simon S. says:

      Have you ever seen Casablanca? (The movie, not the city)

      There’s this scene with the police prefect who is “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

      1. Peter says:

        Casablanca is a fictional movie. The US financed coup and unrest in Ukraine is real.

        1. Simon S. says:

          Well, there’s also lots of fiction on the site Karen linked to. And it’s quite funny to see that a website, which is full of propaganda, complains about propaganda. “I’m shocked – schocked – to find that there is propaganda over there!”

          Apart from that, if you call the Maidan revolution a coup – what about the russian October Coup, the French Coup, or the English Glorious Coup?

          1. Peter says:

            If a country (USA) pumps admittedly (!) over 5 billion US $ officially (and much more through black channels) over years into dubious Ukrainian opposition groups to eventually throw over the regularly elected – but Russia friendly – government for their global hegemony strategy, it is usually called a coup. Comparisons to French or Russian revolutions do not apply. Think more like Chile and Guatemala, Iran 1953 etc. All coups financed by the USA.

          2. Pianoman says:

            Peter, as far as I recall the 5 billion dollars you are referring to were sent into Ukraine from the breakup of the Soviet Union and onwards. I agree that the US had a hand in the regime change, but let’s have the facts presented correctly. What you’re suggesting is that those 5 billion dollars were sent to support regime change over a period of almost 25 years, which of course doesn’t make any sense.

            Worth mentioning, of course, is that the US/Netherlands-funded Hromadske news outlet went on air basically the same time that Yanukovych declined on signing the EU association agreement, focused on reporting the protests in Kiev (which initially weren’t that big) and grew into a major news outlet at that crucial moment. That certainly added to fanning the flames in Kiev.

          3. Karen says:

            Sigh, such a thinly disguised ruse : if you can’t attack the message, try attacking the messenger. Except there is nothing to be gained by attacking that website — it simply posts reports by different independent writers; most reports are also published on numerous other sites. Here is the same article published in Counterpunch, it is worth reading :

  9. Anonymous says:

    Politics aside. She performed Prokofiev (a composer from the Donetsk area) for a population that has suffered so much in the past year. Playing music is not a crime. The opportunity to hear this music live must have been one of the few recent rays of sunlight for the poor civilians caught in the midst of this horrendous conflict.

  10. Inna Thorn says:

    Excellent article! So true. One thing is to express political view, another is to engage actively and deliberately in speech that is aimed at inciting inter-ethnic hatred and violence. She went too far!

  11. Stan Gilliam says:

    I think VL’s position boils down to her hatred of Nazism and extreme Ukrainian nationalist factions which apparently are strong in in western Ukraine. Some of her more inflammatory remarks were based on that position. I don’t think she
    really meant to insult all people in Ukraine, just the rabid nationalists.
    Also remember that when some Russia-oriented people staged a peaceful demonstration
    in (Odessa or Kiev), they were attacked by a mob and fled to a government building.
    While inside, the Ukrainian mob set the building on fire and cheered as the people inside
    Unfortunately, like many countries in eastern Europe there are antagonistic cultural groups forced into belonging to artifically-created states. Sometimes I think it would be best if the states could be split into ethnic areas or even separate countries as happened to Yugoslavia.
    All over that area and into the middle east, and Africa, people are experiencing the tragic consequences of these incompatible partnerships.

    Before the Ukraine conflict broke out, VL was vigorously attacking the rigged elections in Russia. She criticized Putin for building a huge palace for himself, and for basically taking over the Russian Orthodox Church by appointing the Archbishop.

    By the way, I don’t defend Russia’s taking of Crimea, nor of attempting to muscle in on
    Ukraine’s internal affairs.

    Valentina is just one lone, brave individual person expressing her views forcefully. Now she is being attacked by large government-backed propaganda machines and other large public relations entities.

    Norman, I think you are trying to throw your weight around in an unbecoming way,
    seeming to suggest that you think her career SHOULD be ended. But I think she has plenty of fans.

    My best to everyone.

    1. Karen says:

      Very well said, Stan Gilliam.

    2. Wilhelm Gottfried says:

      Ms. Lisitsa regrets the fall of the Soviet Union and believes Ukraine should be part of Russia. What she chooses to ignore is that the vast majority of Ukrainians disagree with her. She chooses to brand these people extreme nationalists and nazis, knowing full well that these are prettiest much the most awful names you can call someone in the western discourse. The current president was elected by a strong majority and far right parties got less than 2 percent of the vote, yet she calls the current government ‘fascist.’ She ignores the fact that the conflict in the east started when men with guns took over government buildings and held a referendum with a couple of weeks’ notice that was condemned by the international community. She is the extremist in her support of Kremlin policies.

      1. Peter says:

        “She ignores the fact that the conflict in the east started when men with guns took over government buildings and held a referendum with a couple of weeks’ notice that was condemned by the international community.”

        Not surprisingly you got your cause and reaction order wrong. The rebellion in Eastern Ukraine started, *after* there was a coup in Kiev (massively influenced and paid for by the US btw) and hardline ultra-nationalist voices from the now in power factions suggested that the Russian speaking minority from now on shall be suppressed, their language not allowed to be official language anymore, and other peaceful trust instilling gestures toward their brethren in the East…

    3. Peter McCready says:

      The problem with using social media to create your success, is that social media can also bring you down…Lisitsa should have stuck to playing music and kept her political thoughts off social media. After all, she claims that her music and political views are separate, but when she uses her status as a musician as a platform for political venting and racist beliefs, there are obviously going to be consequences. One of them being the Toronto Symphony firing her. Why would anyone want to be associated with a hothead like Lisitsa? She is what she posts! Hateful and xenophobic. Performing in Donetsk is in no way keeping her music separate from the separatists! She is trying really hard to erase her nasty tweets that got her fired in Toronto, but social media has a long memory.
      Sample of Lisitsa’s tweets:…/

    4. Olassus says:

      Good comment.

      Lisitsa is a Russian Ukrainian from Kiev. It’s natural she should support Russian Ukrainians, just as it was natural for Donetsk neighbor Netrebko to do the same.

      Khrushchev in the 1950s enlarged Ukraine far beyond its historical area. When the USSR collapsed, the SSR boundaries froze into national frontiers and a weak Russia signed agreements guaranteeing a Ukraine that should never have been. Obama, largely unknowledgeable, has been stamping his little feet ever since, and Republicans, in the pay of the defence contractors, have been urging profitable expenditures, i.e. military action, as has the City of London for the same reason. Now NATO is focused on the wrong enemy.

      1. Peter says:

        Don’t underestimate the power of over 70 years of brainwashing in the west, with the cartoonish stereotypes of the “evil Russkies” and the “American good guys” as intrinsic core propaganda values, not based in reality but hammered in the brains of billions nevertheless. Truth and reason, individual thinking and actual knowledge has a hard time against these perceptional biases, harder than ever it seems.

      2. Peter McCready says:

        Crimea was given to UkraineSSR in exchange for 5 oblasts…hardly a “gift”, as is purported. Whenever the Kremlin does anything for anyone, there is a price to pay. Ukrainians ousted Yanukonvict for betraying them in favour of appeasing Putin. The rest is an undeclared war, the cost for betraying putin…..Lisitsa can have her opinions, but she should not post on social media and then be shocked that she is offensive and vulgar. Social media made her famous and it can also make her infamous.

  12. Eric Koenig says:

    I respect Valentina Lisitsa as a great artist and for me that is enough.

  13. Ethmer T. Rader, Jr. says:

    i also respect Valentina Lisitsa as a great artist. i, as an American, also believe in and respect her RIGHT, as an individual, to have and express HER own opinions — regardless of whether i or anyone else agrees with them. Only by its individuals being able to express differing opinions can a society grow, mature, and be inclusive of all of its members!

  14. Alex LeFebre says:

    I would like to ask Mr. Lebrecht one thing though… I see that your political views really got in the way as well. This is not a musical discussion of the event at all.
    I do not agree with Mme. Lisitsa views but I see here she is stamped as a Putin’s pianist. I do not see anywhere that she ever played in Moscow, let alone Putin. There is, however, another Russian pianist who like Valentina loudly objected Maidan revolution and unlike Valentina signed the letter supporting Putin in Crimea annexation. His name is Denis Matsuev. Enjoying oligarch-like life style he in fact is Putin’s cultural policy advisor and a house pet. Yet, I see no attacks on him at all, although his deeds are probably far worse than what Valentina did. Yet M.Lebrecht would not ever say a thing about it. Is it too dangerous and you are just shooting the easy prey?

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      Nowhere do I refer to Lisitsa as Putin’s pianist. She is her own person (I know her quite well). I have criticised Matsuev and Gergiev repeatedly for their proximity to Putinist crimes and corruption.

      1. Alex LeFebre says:

        There is an overview dron video of the event that makes it evident many, many thousand spectators present at the concert, the crowd that dwarfs her Royal Albert Hall concert, yet all your remarks were about the man who gave her flowers ar the end? What was she supposed to do in you mind? Are people living in a war zone not supposed to have concerts? Even prisons have concerts!

  15. James Reed says:

    Jesus, she just plays the piano. Since when is Playing the Piano a crime? Speaking as a former musician, I can say any good musician doesn’t play to make a political statement, they play because they love the music and want to express the music to the audience. I play for all people, I don’t tell my audience that only certain ethnicities can attend.

    You also support the starvation of Ethnic Russians in Winter in Donbass, by cutting off their food? Do you support their freezing to death when the NATO-supported regime in Kiev cut off their gas? Did you support the Maidan, the US-funded violent overthrow of a legitimately-elected government in Kiev?

    I suppose you also think anyone who opposes you is a “Russian troll.” Well, I live in Central Kansas, just off route 99, and I vote Tea Party.

    With people like you supporting such absurdity, no wonder Obama & RINO’s are bombing 10 different countries, soon to start another war in Ukraine.

  16. FLO MICHEL says:

    I think that most of the music lovers out there who goes to concert don’t really care about what Valentina Lisitsa did or did not for Ukraine.
    Or yes, they might see her attendance in Donetsk as patriotic and very brave.
    You also have bad information, her career is doing very well. Next year season she will be playing everywhere invited by great venues such as the new Paris Philharmonic and performs with well known orchestra.
    That’s too bad, they realized that she was a true artist and one of the most amazing pianist of our times.

  17. Richard Spangler says:

    Now, wait a minute!
    I live in Washington DC and I am not very active in a musical world, but the same can be said about the rest of the town. I am not usually getting surprised with hypocrisy as it is a fact of life here. This town itself can adopt the term as a second or maybe even the first name. But that is a political center of the world where anything goes.
    What brought me to this post was this pianist, Valentina Lisitsa, whose name I have not heard before, until reading an article in the Post few weeks ago. Since that time I am puzzled as to why the information about her is so much skewed and politicized.
    Now, reading the previous post from M. LeFebre I did a skin deep research and realized that he is in fact correct!
    Here is a YouTube clip by some user, indeed showing this pianist – Davide Martello – playing on streets of Donetsk, looks like, with the Russian flag on the piano.
    Here is another clip, this time looking more official from a Russian propaganda station RT
    Now… he is German, doing the same thing in Donetsk, but obviously on a much lower level with just few people circling him and he gets a pass from this blog’s writer on June 12 2015!
    This Valentina is obviously Ukrainian born American, going to the very same town giving a professional concert on a very large stage watched by thousands of spectators. “This meeting may well have repercussions on what remains of her international concert career.
    It is a sad sight for millions around the world who appreciate her musicianship.” writes the same N. Lebrecht.

    If this is not a hypocrisy, what is? I think the author of this article should apologize and retract above statement if he wants to maintain at least an impression of journalistic integrity. I did not know these kind of things can happen outside of politics, but now I begin to think that this Valentina is treated unfairly, and I will make an utmost effort to hear her live in concert whenever she will be performing nearby…
    Richard Spangler (Alexandria, VA)

  18. Anon2 says:

    I am new learning about this situation. I started reading about Valentina because she’s scheduled as a concerto soloist for our 2015-16 season. I am just wondering how this all will impact her appearance with us. Our orch. is in an uninvolved EU country, with little or no Ukrainian presence. Will we be affected? Should I warn management?

    1. mercantilist says:

      Her position cost her a concert (but not pay) in Toronto. Ukranians like Listsita herself have strong feelings on this issue and separation of art from issues of war on occasions is bridged. She does not make political statements in the concert halls. Still we often give this freedom to say poets – why no pianists?

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