Wisconsin Ukrainians hosted a special concert for the Milwaukee community on June 15, performed by frontline Ukrainian soldiers as part of the “Music Tour of Gratitude to America,” an initiative to thank the people of the United States for their unwavering support of Ukraine since Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion.

The group, Cultural Forces of Ukraine, is a division of the Armed Forces that focuses on sharing Ukraine’s heritage with the public. The free concert offered an opportunity for local residents to experience Ukrainian culture, while also showing solidarity with the artists who have bravely served their country.

Milwaukee was one of the major U.S. cities where the group stopped during their scheduled 40-day tour across the country, which also included the Northeast and Rust Belt regions. The extended itinerary was designed to bridge the geographical divide between the two nations, bringing a message of unity and shared values through the universal language of music.

The Milwaukee concert featured traditional Ukrainian music, with performances by a master of the traditional Ukrainian string instrument – the bandura, but also included classical international pieces and popular songs. The “soldier artists” who performed had a special message of thanks for Milwaukee, and emphasized the city’s rich cultural history and ties to Ukraine.

Halyna Zdyrko Salapata, President of Wisconsin Ukrainians, expressed deep gratitude on behalf of the Ukrainian community in Milwaukee.

“For more than two years, the support, help, and guidance have been crucial in our struggle for freedom and independence. We owe much to people in our local communities. Without the support of American society, our fight would be impossible and the existence of Ukraine would be in jeopardy,” said Salapata. “From the bottom of our hearts, we are so thankful for the continued assistance and selfless support.

Wisconsin Ukrainians is a grassroots, volunteer-led, nonprofit organization focusing on promoting and celebrating Ukrainian culture, supporting crucial initiatives, and fulfilling humanitarian missions in Ukraine since March 2022.


“Our heritage is something no enemy can erase. It is woven into the fabric of our society, from traditional music to modern digital art. Preserving our culture has been a tool of resistance since Russia first tried to colonize Ukraine,” said Corporal Valéry Shyrokov, media specialist for the Cultural Forces of Ukraine. “Using music, we want to thank the American people for their unwavering support in helping Ukraine restore its territory and return peace to Europe.”

Shyrokov said that through their direct experience of war, the “soldier artists” are able to present Ukrainian culture to all levels of American society. Most of the group members have fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war. Several were also seriously wounded, but still returned to active duty after recovering.

“Artists believe that in times of war, preserving the human spirit and dignity is of utmost importance. Culture serves as a steadfast guide during our most challenging moments,” said Corporal Shyrokov. “This existential war has sharply defined Ukrainian identity. Our artists affirm that they are living proof of how our heritage fosters a deep sense of national pride and an enduring love of freedom.”


During some of the most intense battles in Ukraine, members of the Cultural Forces (Культурний Десант) took their performances to the front lines, playing music directly for troops in the trenches. For combat soldiers accustomed to the relentless sounds of bullets and shelling, the arrival of musicians can present a significant and unexpected change. The introduction of music into such a harsh environment provides psychological relief. The effort has allowed troops to recharge and prepare mentally to return to the battlefield.

The musical ensemble has been referred to as a lifeline for the soul, because of the emotional support they bring with daily events that can total an audience of up to 30,000 military personnel each month. Cultural Forces of Ukraine has also played a crucial role in maintaining the connection between military and civilian sectors, emphasizing patriotic engagement.


The “Music Tour of Gratitude to America” tour included five musicians, consisting of Taras Stoliar, Olha Rukavishnikova, Yurii Ivaskevych, and Mykhailo Oliynyk. Mykolai Sierga was unable to perform at the Milwaukee concert, and Valeriia Vovk joined the group as a special guest.

Private First Class Taras Stoliar: The Bandura Virtuoso. A reconnaissance operative in the 112 Separate Brigade, Stoliar is celebrated as a People’s Artist of Ukraine. A graduate of the Chernivtsi Music School and the National Music Academy, he is the first-prize bandura player of the First Hnat Khotkevych International Folk Instruments Competition and a soloist of the NAONI Orchestra. His expertise with the traditional Ukrainian string instrument, the bandura, adds a unique and culturally rich element to the concert.

Private First Class Olha Rukavishnikova: The Warrior Violinist. Also from the 112 Separate Brigade, Rukavishnikova is both a reconnaissance operative and a grenade launcher operator. A graduate of the National Music Academy and a laureate of international music competitions, her dual roles as a violinist and a soldier epitomize the intersection of cultural excellence and military valor. Her story is a powerful testament to the resilience and versatility of Ukrainian women in wartime.

Sergeant Yurii Ivaskevych: Vocalist and Soldier. Serving as an infantryman and assistant grenade launcher operator in the 110 Separate Brigade, Ivaskevych is also a vocalist and soloist with the Zaporozhtsi Song and Dance Ensemble at the Zaporizhzhia Philharmonic Orchestra. His involvement in both cultural and military spheres highlights the integral role of music in maintaining morale and a sense of normalcy amid conflict.

Private Mykhailo Oliynyk: Composer and Pianist. A member of the 59 Separate Mechanized Brigade, Oliynyk is a composer, pianist, and recognized as a Stanislav Lyudkevych Prize Laureate. A graduate of both the Glier Kyiv Municipal Music Academy and the Lyssenko Lviv National Music Academy, he brings a high level of artistic achievement to the cultural forces. His compositions and performances provide emotional and psychological support to his fellow soldiers.

Mykolai Sierga: From TV to the Trenches. As a Senior Lieutenant in the 59 Separate Mechanized Brigade, Sierga is a well-known Ukrainian TV presenter, musician, and producer. His journey from the entertainment industry to the battlefield underscores the profound impact of the conflict on all sectors of Ukrainian society. Despite the transition, Sierga has managed to keep his passion for music alive, using it as a tool for morale and cultural preservation.


The dictator Putin suffered a quick and humiliating failure to achieve his strategic objective to re-colonize the entire country under Russia’s brutal occupation, with the goal of destroying Ukraine’s statehood and erasing Ukrainian identity.

After numerous failed peace talks, it became clear that Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield was the only way to restore respect for international law, bring peace to Europe, and send a signal to all dictatorships around the world that the democratic world was strong and would not succumb to tyranny.

“Today we are in Milwaukee, thousands of miles away from the frontlines. It is my sincere honor and privilege to welcome these brave Ukrainian defenders from the Cultural Forces in the heart of Milwaukee,” said Serhiy Koledov, Consul General of Ukraine in Chicago. “They tirelessly fight for freedom, shoulder-to-shoulder with many American veterans who joined the international legion. They took a break and crossed the ocean to share their stories, and to thank Milwaukee for your support.”

Consul General Koledov said that starting from February 24, 2022, Ukraine had endured a direct military confrontation with Russia. The Ukrainian people demonstrated heroism and self-sacrifice in their struggle against the ruthless invader.

The pro-Ukrainian coalition worldwide has remained strong and consolidated in the two years since. Ukraine has expressed sincere gratitude to its American and European partners for their political, military, logistical, technical, and financial support.

“I also want to thank Milwaukee’s Mayor Cavalier Johnson and the Milwaukee Public Library for opening the doors of the historic Centennial Hall to host this event. Your support is greatly appreciated,” added Consul General Koledov. “I would also like to thank our partners who made this event possible – Halyna Zdyrko Salapata, the President of the charity organization Wisconsin Ukrainians, and her incredible team.”

As the concert concluded in Milwaukee, the venue was filled with the energy of resilience from the audience. More than just a musical performance, it was a demonstration of the enduring spirit of the Ukrainian people. It also highlighted their determination to preserve their heritage and support their defenders, through the power of art and music.

“Our projects include cultural engagements and book donations to soldiers,” added Corporal Shyrokov. “Soldiers get joy from receiving messages and books. Another project is a mobile studio where soldiers can record their stories, poetry, and music, which are then professionally produced. This is how we make culture and share our experiences.”