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Ukrainian soldiers, who are also musicians, are on a thank you tour in the U.S.


Active duty Ukrainian soldiers, who are also musicians, are on a concert tour backed by the Ukrainian government. Officially, they're here to thank the U.S. for the latest round of military aid to Ukraine. But at side concerts, the musicians try to win over people in districts with members of Congress who opposed the aid package. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of his country, Yurii Ivaskevych sang with a regional philharmonic orchestra in Ukraine.


QUIRMBACH: And his voice is still captivating.

YURII IVASKEVYCH: (Singing in non-English language).

QUIRMBACH: Since the war began, there's been a big change for the sergeant. While fighting for the Territorial Defense Forces, he stepped on a land mine and lost much of his left leg.

IVASKEVYCH: (Non-English language spoken).

QUIRMBACH: Vadym Adamov is an interpreter for the group.

VADYM ADAMOV: So while I'm singing, Yurii says, he is having this moment when he is going back in his mind to his civilian normal life, and it is also helping a lot.

QUIRMBACH: Adamov and Ivaskevych are part of a small company from a Cultural Forces unit that usually entertains troops in Ukraine, often playing a mix of instruments.


QUIRMBACH: For the last month, the group of soldiers has been touring the U.S., their spokesperson, Valery Shyrokov, says, as a thank you.


VALERY SHYROKOV: We are benefiting from the support from the American people, and we are very grateful for it. We hope that this support will continue.

QUIRMBACH: But the $61 billion Ukraine aid package that passed a couple of months ago was controversial. Many Conservative Republicans voted against it. So a U.S.-based humanitarian group, Razom for Ukraine, has organized side concerts apart from the official Cultural Forces tour but with some of the same personnel to try to gain public support in those Conservative districts. Razom spokesperson Daniel Balson.

DANIEL BALSON: We need policymakers to understand this - that their constituents care about Ukraine, care about Ukraine's future and support the close partnership between the United States and Ukraine.

QUIRMBACH: To emphasize that partnership, Yurii Ivaskevych occasionally performs a song in English.


IVASKEVYCH: (Singing) And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

QUIRMBACH: About 50 people showed up for one of the side concerts in Oconomowoc, Wis., a half hour west of Milwaukee. Conservative House Republican Scott Fitzgerald represents the area, and he voted against the Ukraine package. One of his constituents, concert goer Karen Haertel, says she supports the arts but contends oversight of aid to Ukraine is lacking. She says accountability is a top issue for her.

KAREN HAERTEL: Because it's our money. It's our tax money. It should be on everything.

QUIRMBACH: In March, the Government Accountability Office recommended ways to improve oversight of aid to Ukraine. And concert goer Renee Strong says she's somewhat optimistic that the Ukrainians' cultural efforts will have an impact.

RENEE STRONG: Hopefully it gets a conversation going. And, you know, maybe with enough momentum, people will persuade our Congress people. But I often think their votes are for their own, you know, interests, unfortunately.

QUIRMBACH: Representative Fitzgerald's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment. However, Ukraine Cultural Forces bandura player Taras Stoliar says he's less focused on the politicians and more on the American public.

TARAS STOLIAR: Maybe some of Americans will understand better what for this war is, why we are still fighting and what we are fighting for.


QUIRMBACH: The Ukrainians will continue their U.S. tour through June 28, as they work to gather more support for their country's fight against Russia.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANDURA PLAYING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Chuck Quirmbach
Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August, 2018, as Innovation Reporter, covering developments in science, health and business.