Slavic Reference Service hosts benefit concert to raise humanitarian crises awareness

By Carolina Garibay, Staff Writer

It’s been about two months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, starting what some outlets have called the biggest war in Europe since World War II.

The events unfolding in Ukraine over the past few months have led to protests and other efforts of awareness raising throughout the world, including here in Champaign-Urbana, from student protests to sunflower billboards.

The support for Ukraine continues, and this time, it continues through music. 

On April 30, the Slavic Reference Service at the University is teaming up with the Rose Bowl Tavern to host a benefit concert to raise donations for Doctors Without Borders.

The apolitical, international humanitarian medical organization provides medical assistance to people in areas affected by conflict and endemic diseases.

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    Joe Lenkart, manager of the Slavic Reference Service, said the idea for a benefit concert came out of a want to directly participate in aiding the humanitarian crisis happening in Ukraine.

    “We’ve seen this horrible piece of news, that there’s this conflict, and so we wanted to figure out how we can be helpful, what we can do,” Lenkart said.

    He said for many of the employees who work at the Slavic Reference Service, the war also hits close to home, which was even more motivation to hold this concert.

    “All of us in the Slavic Reference Service have linkages, either personal or professional, but also, most of us are immigrants,” Lenkart said. “This is deeply personal, and on a personal level, you think about all of that stuff.”

    On top of the personal connections, Lenkart said he and colleagues also worked on-site when the pandemic started, so they’ve worked directly with populations affected by this war.

    “It’s important for us to be involved because we get it in high definition — the costs of this,” Lenkart said. “So, that’s our primary reason why we’re involved in this.”

    He said the concert’s goal is also to bring the University campus and Champaign-Urbana community together to support an important cause.

    “This is a fantastic region that really cares about what happens,” Lenkart said. “And so we thought a benefit concert would be the perfect venue to bring all of these various groups together in a centrally located place, which is the Rose Bowl.”

    Katherine Ashcraft, pre-professional graduate assistant at the Slavic Reference Service, said that the concert also allows the service to reach not only Ukrainians, but people all over the world — Doctors Without Borders houses humanitarian projects in over 72 countries.

    “We were thinking about what is probably most needed right now, and we also wanted to have an effort that was not just going toward Ukraine, but other people suffering humanitarian crises as well,” Ashcraft said. 

    She said through this event, the service aims to educate others about the ways they can help, as well as directly contribute to helping those in at-risk situations.

    “Our ultimate goal here is really to raise some awareness of actions we can take and also hopefully raise some money for the cause,” Ashcraft said.

    For Jan Adamczyk, senior library specialist at the Slavic Reference Service, holding this concert allowed him to feel like he has even a small impact on an issue that’s so huge.

    “It’s almost for selfish reasons,” Adamcyzk said. “(Does it) make me feel like I’m doing something? Sure. The little effort of spreading the word is miniscule, but it’s easier for me to watch the news knowing that I did a little bit of something.”

    Members of the Champaign-Urbana community made it clear they care about the humanitarian crisis happening in Champaign, too. 

    Olga Makarova, graduate assistant at the Slavic Reference Service, said soon after reaching out to artists, she received enthusiastic responses, all of them more than happy to perform.

    “I was very pleasantly surprised how many were eager to help,” Makarova said. “We had to choose and prioritize some of the bands, unfortunately, and were not able to accommodate everyone who responded and was eager to perform and share their talents.”

    She said that she hopes bringing friends and familiar faces together will create a more comfortable, encouraging environment for attendees to donate to the cause, especially considering it’s been a while since the Slavic Reference Service has been able to host community events due to COVID-19.

    “Now since it feels like we’re kind of recovering well, I think we might be doing more of what we used to do for our community,” Makarova said.

    The free benefit concert will take place at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana on April 30 from 1-4 p.m. Bands performing include the Church Street Ramblers, Jean-René Balekita, the Klezmer Trio and John Coppess and The Limping Cowboy Band. 


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