Singer driven from Belarus for speaking out tries to rebuild

Oct 8, 2022, 12:36 PM | Updated: Oct 9, 2022, 7:36 am
Opera singer Ilya Silchukou sits for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4,...

Opera singer Ilya Silchukou sits for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

              Opera singer Ilya Silchukou stands for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
            
              Opera singer Ilya Silchukou stands for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
            
              Opera singer Ilya Silchukou sits for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
            
              Opera singer Ilya Silchukou stands for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
            
              Opera singer Ilya Silchukou sits for a photograph at a park in a suburb of Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses all over Europe. He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland, but gave it up after joining tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed by the Lukashenko government. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Ilya Silchukou was a cultural icon in his native Belarus, the lead soloist at the State Opera Bolshoi who represented his nation at official government functions at home and abroad and performed at opera houses across Europe.

He lived a privileged and comfortable life in his homeland.

And he gave it all up.

Silchukou dared to speak out against Alexander Lukashenko, who has led the former Soviet republic with an iron fist for nearly three decades.

He’s now living in suburban Boston with his wife and three children and teaches music to middle school students while he tries to revive his singing career in the U.S., where he remains relatively unknown.

“I am known in Europe, but I’ve never performed in the States, and it was like a blank piece of paper for me, just a new page,” he said during a recent interview in Boston. “We had to start from scratch here.”

When Lukashenko won a sixth term in office in 2020 in an election regarded by his opposition and the West as fraudulent, Silchukou joined tens of thousands of Belarusians at election protests that were violently suppressed and resulted in the arrests of thousands.

“It was so evident to all of us that we could not keep silent any more,” he said.

He renounced three awards that he had received personally from Lukashenko.

His friends warned him of the risks.

“They said, ‘What is the problem with you? You have everything you need,'” he said. “I was well paid in Belarus and I had all the benefits from that. I said, ‘Yes they pay me, but they don’t own me.'”

His public opposition to Lukashenko got him fired from the opera for an “act of immorality” and he was black-listed, he said. In response, he had one more act of defiance — using his baritone voice in a video of the traditional Belarusian hymn, “Mahutny Bozha,” which means “Mighty God,” and has become a signature anthem of the opposition to Lukashenko.

Still, it wasn’t until March 2021 when the police came after his wife, Tanya, and accused her of defrauding the nation’s state-sponsored child support system and threatened her with two years in jail that he knew he had to get out. He took it as a thinly-veiled threat to break up their family.

“Lots of kids in Belarus have both parents in prison,” he said.

When his children finished school in May of that year, the family packed four suitcases with some vital documents and photos and flew from Belarus to the nation of Georgia, then on to Seattle, where his parents live.

The family came to the East Coast about a year ago at the suggestion of Marina Lvova, who runs the nonprofit Belarusians in Boston, drawn by Boston’s cultural scene, proximity to Europe and vibrant Belarusian expatriate community.

Lvova and her husband first saw Silchukou at one of his last public performances in Minsk and “fell in love with his voice,” she said.

But she was also impressed with his bravery for standing up to Lukashenko.

“Ilya is a real patriot of Belarus,” she said. “You cannot be successful in a country that is a prison, and unfortunately our country is a prison right now.”

Silchukou is making ends meet teaching 5th through 9th graders at the private Star Academy school.

“It’s pretty incredible that he’s able to share some of the experiences he’s had at some of the best opera houses in Europe,” said Margarita Druker, Star Academy’s co-director.

The school has many students of Eastern European descent whose families have similar stories of fleeing oppression.

“It was very courageous for someone of his stature to walk away from all he had into so much uncertainty,” Druker said.

Silchukou has returned to the stage, collaborating with pianist Pavel Nersessian, an associate professor at Boston University, for two recent concerts in Boston and New Jersey.

For both, he put together a retrospective of some of his personal favorite pieces spanning his career from his first singing lessons to his time at the national opera, including “Papageno” from “The Magic Flute” and “Cavatina Figaro” from the “The Barber of Seville.” He capped off the shows with what he called the “jewel of the concert,” a duet with his mezzo-soprano wife.

He recently had an audition with the Boston Lyric Opera and is trying to secure auditions with other opera houses in the U.S., and he’s in negotiations with U.S. agents.

“I am looking forward with hope,” he said.

One of those hopes is a return to his homeland.

He remains in touch with friends and colleagues in Belarus who are “working in fear,” afraid of speaking out against Lukashenko.

“We hope to see them again, and for sure we will sing our songs on the squares on our true independence day,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

First delivery of S. Korean heavy weapons comes to Poland

GDYNIA, Poland (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda and the country’s defense minister on Tuesday took delivery of a first shipment of tanks and howitzers from South Korea, hailing the swift implementation of a deal signed in the summer in the face of the war in neighboring Ukraine. Duda and Mariusz Blaszczak were in the […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Tanzania’s president cancels Independence Day celebrations

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Tanzania’s president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has canceled Independence Day celebrations scheduled for Friday and directed that the budget instead be used to build dormitories for children with special needs. The 61st Independence Day event was to cost $445,000, money that will be used to build eight dormitories in primary schools around […]
1 day ago
Protesters hold a banner which reads in Greek "they shot them because they were Roma" as they prote...
Associated Press

Greece: Police officer appears in court over teen shooting

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A police officer appeared before a court in northern Greece on Tuesday over the shooting of a teenager who allegedly failed to pay a gas station bill, as protesters gathered outside. The 16-year-old, a member of the Roma minority, is in critical condition in a hospital in Thessaloniki. The 34-year-old police […]
1 day ago
Visitors tour past military vehicles carrying the Dong Feng 41 and DF-17 ballistic missiles at an e...
Associated Press

China blasts US report, reiterates ‘no 1st use’ nuke policy

BEIJING (AP) — China strictly adheres to its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons “at any time and under any circumstances,” its Defense Ministry said Tuesday in a scathing response to a U.S. report alleging a major buildup in Beijing’s nuclear capabilities. The Pentagon last week released an annual China security report that […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

EU ministers mull whether to punish Hungary over rule of law

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union finance ministers were assessing on Tuesday whether to immediately punish Hungary by withholding billions of euros for failures to implement solid rule-of-law reforms or whether to grant Budapest more time to improve its democratic credentials. On top of that, the 27 ministers were also hoping to make progress on approving […]
1 day ago
FILE - EPA Administrator Michael Regan stands near the Marathon Petroleum Refinery as he conducts a...
Associated Press

EPA head visits WVa city that had 10-year water advisory

The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled Tuesday to visit a West Virginia county where some residents recently got access to clean water after years of having to boil it before drinking because of persistent infrastructure issues. EPA Administrator Michael Regan will speak with community members in McDowell County about drinking water […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Singer driven from Belarus for speaking out tries to rebuild