Ukrainian refugee rediscovers love of cello

Daria Shkilniuk hopes to pursue dream of playing cello professionally after being lent an instrument by a Winchmore Hill resident, writes James Cracknell

Daria Shkilniuk
Daria Shkilniuk arrived in the UK in May

A Ukrainian refugee who thought the war had ruined her chances of becoming a professional cellist now hopes her “dream can come true” in the UK.

Daria Shkilniuk – or ‘Dasha’ as she is commonly known – fled Ukraine a few days after the war began in February, leaving her beloved cello behind in her Kiev apartment as she was only able to take “one bag of clothes”.

The 24-year-old had been due to sit an entrance exam for a university in Ukraine this year, which she hoped could launch her career as a professional cellist. She had already been working as a music teacher in Kiev for four years, while playing cello at weddings and events.

Now, thanks to the generosity of a Winchmore Hill resident who herself is a former professional cellist, Dasha’s dreams have been revived. Tanya Lugli happened upon an appeal on social media for anyone who might have a cello they could lend a Ukrainian refugee, and the pair met within days of her arrival in London.

Dasha, who spent two months in Germany before eventually arriving in the UK in May thanks to the government’s sponsorship scheme, told the Dispatch: “I think there could be an opportunity to study here, there are a lot of universities offering discounts for us [Ukrainians] to study.

“When the war started I felt like I had to give up my dream – I thought maybe I could keep it as a hobby – but now I feel like my dream can come true and maybe it will be possible.

“The support from the UK is huge and I have found people very nice and very helpful. I didn’t ask for anyone to find me a cello – but she did.”

Tanya Lugli with Daria Shkilniuk
Tanya Lugli with Daria Shkilniuk on the day they met

Tanya is the daughter of Jewish refugees who fled Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, and when war broke out in Ukraine she was keen to help in whatever way she could. A former cellist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, one of the finest in the world, Tanya said: “I just happened to look at my phone one night and saw this message.

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“The man who sent it was the 90-year-old uncle of a refugee host; I got in touch the next day and said I could lend a cello.”

Dasha met Tanya shortly after she arrived in the UK. It turns out they have more in common than just a shared passion for cello, as they are both also trained florists. Tanya took up floristry after retiring from musical performance while Dasha worked as a florist in Kiev – and now has a job arranging flowers for a shop in Bond Street.

Tanya said: “When we met Dasha brought me a bunch a flowers and I could see they had been arranged, so I asked her and I couldn’t believe it. I feel like it was meant to be.”

Tanya had considered sponsoring a refugee herself but said she wasn’t in a position to do it at the current time, so being able to help Dasha play cello “felt wonderful”. The pair have since become friends and even went to Livestock Festival in Enfield together.

Dasha’s refugee host is Diane Druce, a reverend who runs the Barnet Christian Fellowship in High Barnet. Dasha’s family have ended up in various different countries; she has a sister in Wales and two brothers in Ireland. Some relatives have also stayed behind in Ukraine, with her father still in Mariupol, a city in eastern Ukraine where Dasha grew up, which has been besieged by Russian forces.

“One day there was an explosion where my father lives,” Dasha said. “For half-an-hour I couldn’t contact him, I didn’t know if he was safe. That was very scary for me.

“Every Ukrainian feels that. We have no choice but to watch the news everyday.”

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