Ukrainians can sing in UK after hitting wrong note over visa


They say it's never over "until the fat lady sings". For Ukrainian choir Varnitshkes, it looked like their dream of performing in London was over before anyone had a chance to sing.

The choir were all set to travel to London to perform at the fourth European Jewish Choral Festival next week, until British immigration officials told them they couldn't be granted visas.

The 16-strong ensemble, from Lviv in the west of the country, were turned down because they were unable to show that they had enough money to pay for a return trip.

Just as they were giving up hope of making the event, an anonymous donor stepped in to provide the funds they need.

And to be absolutely certain, the Board of Deputies and the Zemel Choir, which are organising the four-day festival at the West London Synagogue, issued special invitations in order to convince officials at the British embassy in Kiev that they were coming to the UK for a music engagement and had no plans to stay as migrants.

‘To be able to meet them and hear them is truly an honour’

With visas issued, the choir embarked on their 1,200 mile, three-day journey, travelling by coach rather than plane.

Kay Bagon, a member of the Zemel Choir, said she was "really relieved" that the ensemble, who take their name from a classic Yiddish dish, would be able to participate.

"We suggested to the deputy head of the British embassy in Ukraine that he write to the Board, which he did. The Board wrote the letter endorsing the choir, and finally, with two weeks to go, we heard they got their visas.

"It's going to be a wonderful event and we're only too pleased they're coming. Ukraine is the heart of Jewish music and so many of us have relatives from there, so it was important to us that they could come. It's just brilliant."

Laura Marks, the former Board senior vice-president who helped secure the visas, said: "It's essential, to my mind, that we are able to share our rich heritage with Jews around the world, and right now I can't think of a group we wish to engage with more than our Jewish friends in the Ukraine. To be able to hear them, meet them, learn from them and cherish them is our pleasure and truly an honour."

The Jewish community in Ukraine has been caught up in the fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists, with hundreds having to flee their homes.

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