Nataliya Skala rehearses a Chopin piece at the Fiddlehead Center for the Arts on Tuesday. Skala, who moved to Maine from Ukraine in 2002, is performing a benefit concert for Ukraine at Aura on Sunday. Her sister just escaped the country into Poland, but her brother and his family, as well as other family, are still in Ukraine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nataliya Skala stays in touch with her sister on a daily basis, either through email or Skype, as she puts it, “to make sure everyone is alive.”

Skala’s sister, 45-year-old Svetlana Skala, fled Kyiv following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and now is living in a refugee camp in Poland. Svetlana’s husband and their 10-year-old son got separated from her during the invasion and are still living in Ukraine, their future uncertain.

That is partly why Skala, known to her friends and piano students as Natasha, has agreed to do a concert Sunday at Aura in Portland to benefit her Ukrainian countrymen and her family.

Proceeds from the performance – tickets will be $15 per person – will be donated to humanitarian organizations that are trying to help millions of refugees forced to flee from Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the invasion of the sovereign nation three weeks ago. Skala, who came to the United States from Ukraine in 2002, said the invasion and the resulting loss of innocent civilian lives has left her reeling.

“It was a shock,” she said during an interview Tuesday evening at the Fiddlehead Center for the Arts in Scarborough, where she teaches piano. “It was like a dream, like a movie … people can’t believe it happened.”

About a week ago, one of Skala’s students, 17-year-old Janet Newman, a junior at Thornton Academy, approached Skala with an idea to help Ukrainians trapped in their homeland. Newman asked Skala if she would be willing to do a benefit piano concert for Ukraine at Aura, the Portland nightclub that Newman’s mother, Krista Newman, co-owns.


Skala agreed to perform along with her mother, Anna Skala, a retired piano teacher, who lives in Saco. Nataliya Skala’s 12-year-old son, Alex Darling, will join them on stage.

The concert, which will run from 1-3 p.m., also will feature performances by musicians Emil Afrasiyab and his wife, Leyla Babayeva Afrasiyab. They are from Azerbaijan. Newman said the Afrasiyabs are world-renown performers. Emil plays piano and Leyla, who does vocals, will sing one or two songs in Ukrainian.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or on Aura’s website.

Krista Newman said Skala was humbled by the offer she and her daughter made. Janet Newman came up with the idea for a benefit concert after asking her mother what they could do to help Skala and the people of Ukraine. Newman’s daughter has been taking piano lessons from Skala for 12 years.

“She was surprised that we even suggested it,” Newman said of when they spoke with Skala. “She told us, she could not thank us enough. It means so much to her.”

Skala, who lives in Scarborough, was practicing pieces from Polish composer Frederic Chopin at the Fiddlehead Center on Tuesday evening. Skala said she chose to perform a program by Chopin as a way to express her gratitude to the Polish people, whose generosity and kindness toward refugees have exceeded her expectations.


Skala came to live in the United States in 2002, but has returned to Ukraine every couple of years. She described the country and its architecture as beautiful and its people as peaceful, but proud. Her brother, 47-year-old Pavlo Skala, is still in Ukraine and runs a humanitarian organization that provides food and medical supplies to those in need.

Though she has not had very much time to prepare for Sunday’s concert, Skala said her preparation time is not important. Ukrainians, surprised by the ruthlessness of Russian forces, had virtually no time to prepare for being uprooted from their homes.

She said her sister fled the country carrying only a backpack.

“Nobody can prepare for war, so we play as we go,” she said.

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