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Exterior lights at Popejoy Hall on UNM main campus illuminate the building with the colors of the Ukrainian flag in March.

UNM teach-in, benefit concert to be held in solidarity with Ukraine

A teach-in and benefit concert to stand in solidarity with Ukraine will be held at the University of New Mexico’s Rodey Theater on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m. This event, which is a personal choice of entry for free or by donation, will feature musicians as well as activists, and all proceeds raised will go toward Ukrainian refugee relief efforts.

Vitaliy Osmolovskyy, an activist and grassroots organizer, will be joining from Poland via Zoom for the event. All funds raised will go to his organizing efforts, for which he has a supply list that addresses many different needs, some of which are for physical and mental health aid.

“He’s going to give us a direct communiqué of what’s happening on the ground and his work with refugees that he’s receiving in Poland that are coming from the Ukraine,” said Dominika Laster, one of the event organizers and UNM associate professor of theatre and performance studies.

Oud musician Rahim AlHaj will be performing as well as Argentinean-French band Engine.

“The main reason for us to participate in this event is to support the people living in or fleeing from Ukraine, people going through immense pain right now,” Engine band member Alejandro Tomás Rodriguez said via email. 

AlHaj “was forced to leave Iraq due to his activism against the Saddam Hussein regime” and then lived in Jordan, Syria and finally, Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to his biography. Laster approached AlHaj after attending his performances to ask him to perform at this event.

“I learned a little bit about his own life being a refugee, and a lot of the music that he composed very much resonated with the current situation, even though he was writing about his exile from Iraq, there are a lot of resonances with what’s been happening in current-day Ukraine,” Laster said.

Other guests are in the process of being confirmed, according to Laster.

“There will be experts on the historical and political situation in Ukraine so they can learn about the political situation and what’s happening on the ground currently,” Laster said.

Fighting is ongoing in Ukraine, and the United Nations General Assembly voted on Thursday, April 7 to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council due to “high-profile allegations of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers during the war in Ukraine,” according to CNN.

“I think that, interestingly enough, many of the people who are participating in this event, whether they’re artists or activists, have had the experience of being a refugee or having very close proximity to such events,” Laster said.

Laster herself is a former child refugee who escaped from Poland with her mother. Her grandmother was Ukrainian, and all of her family is still in Ukraine.

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“I think the reason that I’m affected by these events is not just because this is hitting close to home and I have a family there. Even before this was happening, I was involved in … justice initiatives and activism because I myself have had that experience of being a child refugee so I’m a little bit more aware of what that means,” Laster said.

Although the U.S. hasn’t witnessed a direct attack with the exception of 9/11, Laster said, what’s going on in Ukraine still affects Americans in many ways, including the waves of refugees that have come and are coming to the U.S.

“I think it’s in our nature to feel empathy towards others who are suffering because we have seen some form of suffering ourselves in our own lives. It might have taken a slightly different form but I think we can all identify and empathize with what’s happening in Ukraine, even if we haven’t experienced anything as extreme. I think we can imagine what it might be like to lose one’s home, family, way of life, everything that we take for granted,” Laster said.

Laster emphasized the importance of helping other areas of the world that need help as well.

“We have to work in coalition with one another to help support each other across difference(s), across geographic, ethnic, national divides,” Laster said.

This local event will create a space for community through the arts, according to Laster.

“Through music and through the arts, we will also create community. We will come together to support each other because we’re all affected in various ways,” Laster said.

The idea for the event was initiated by Laster’s Palestinian-American friend Samia Assed, who knew Laster had family in Ukraine and wanted to help the Ukrainian community locally and abroad.

“At times like this — and not only at times like this but particularly at times like this — we need each other; we need community, so that’s one of the things we’re going to do at the event is try to create a community between us and work in solidarity to help the people of Ukraine,” Laster said.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716

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