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Renowned Ukrainian conductor reflects on war, life as a refugee


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago, an estimated 16 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes.

We have looked this past year at Ukrainians trying to rebuild their lives in America. And, tonight, we introduce you to one man and his family doing that through the universal language of music.

Justin Kenny of Rhode Island PBS Weekly has the story, a collaboration with The Boston Globe for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Justin Kenny: It's Sunday morning at the Second Baptist Church in East Providence, Rhode Island.

Alex Kreshchuk is warming up the small choir. It's smaller than he's used to. Back home in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, he conducted on a much grander scale, like the Reverend Billy Graham's revival at a Moscow stadium.

When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, his life changed. One of Russia's first targets was Kreshchuk's hometown. He and his family were forced to flee. Musicians all, the family made a difficult decision to leave the country and head for the Romanian border.

Oleksander "Alex" Kreschuk, Ukrainian Refugee: When we came there, a crowd of people, mostly women and children, cry, and it was very cold. It was terrible situation.

Many times, I saw on TV what's happened in Syria or in other countries when refugees left countries. But I cannot imagine I can be -- I can with my eyes what's happened. I'm standing in this crowd and crying. And I saw on my kids. I saw on my grandchildren, and had no idea of what will be happened.

Justin Kenny: They waited for it to be safe to go home, but going home would bring even more pain.

Oleksander "Alex" Kreschuk: Everywhere was burning, the big library with collection of music instrument and all photos, all what we collect during last 35, 40 years.

Justin Kenny: Kreshchuk's worst fears were realized. Once Ukrainian forces finally pushed the Russians out of their town, his daughter Victoria went to see for herself. This is where the family house once stood, full of music and culture, now gone.

After several months in exile, the family acquired special visas allowing them to come to the United States. They moved to Rhode Island last summer. His family, including his wife and their three youngest children, share a two-bedroom apartment.

The children attend a nearby Christian school. The parents study English at a refugee resettlement agency. Kreshchuk now has a Social Security card. And he's looking for work.

Oleksander "Alex" Kreschuk: And I visited many countries and know it's one side when came this concert or came as a tourist, but another way to come as a refugee.

I met a very deeply party and compassion and people with deep love, with this open heart.

Justin Kenny: Does it make you sad to think about your former life?

Oleksander "Alex" Kreschuk: I'm just saying that life is a journey on the way, a journey from day of birth until day of death. And we must came through different events in our life.

And when I see back on my life, it's not sad. I'm only thankful to God he gave this experience, this chance to live. And now I understand it's a new period of my life.

Justin Kenny: Finding peace in their music, even when there's no peace back home.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Justin Kenny in East Providence, Rhode Island.

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