More than 200 concertgoers filled Portland’s Aura on Sunday afternoon to provide moral and financial support for Ukraine and its people. Several said they have heavy hearts about how innocents are being killed, maimed and displaced by the Russian invasion of the Eastern European country.

The concert, called “An Afternoon for Ukraine,” featured classical music by pianists Natasha Skala of Scarborough and her mother, Anna Skala. Both are native Ukrainians and have family in Ukraine.

Natasha’s 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. Her sister, 45-year-old Svetlana Skala, fled Kyiv following the attacks by Russia and 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.

As a tribute to Poland, which as taken in huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees, Natasha Skala played several pieces by Chopin, the famed Polish composer.

“I’m so grateful to the Polish people,” she said. “They’ve opened their hearts, houses, everything.”

Skala said she and her mother were surprised by the interest generated by the concert, and are grateful for the community’s support of Ukraine.


As the benefit concert began, Aura General Manager Mark Curdo thanked the audience for attending. “This community rises when we need it,” he said.

Some audience members had connections to Ukraine. Others did not.

“I don’t know how to help,” said Frank Pandolfo of Cumberland. “Perhaps I could meet Natasha and give her a check personally”

Referring to the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pandolfo paused and then spoke. “Why? Why? Why? In this day and age to see somebody killing tens of thousands of people for no reason. I fear that NATO and the United States will be drawn in out of absolute necessity.”

Pandolfo came to the concert with his family, including his grandchildren. “I’m 80 years old. This is not the world I was planning on leaving them.”

Mari Warner of Saco came wearing a traditional Ukrainian top, one that belonged to her mother. Her mother’s family is Ukrainian. Years ago she took her mother to Ukraine to visit the place where their cousins live, Cherkasey.


She’s learned that a cousin and her son escaped to Germany. “Our hearts go out to the Ukrainians,” Warner said. “We’ve been watching it nonstop. They are a proud people. They’re working hard to survive. I can only hope they do it.”

Carole G. Jean of Portland said she came to the concert as a way to do something to help.

“I feel so powerless,” she said. What’s happening “is so horrible,” she added, and it’s causing her to lose sleep.  “Watching the news, I find it so difficult to fathom in this day and age it’s going on.”

Natasha Skala and her mother, Anna Skala, stand and bow after they performed during “An Afternoon for Ukraine,” a benefit concert held Sunday at Aura in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Jean said she’s ready to see the United States do more to defend the Ukrainians.

Before the concert Natasha Skala said while she can’t be in Ukraine now, “anything we can do to help my country, I just want to try the best I can.” She wants people to know her native land is a  democracy, a beautiful country with “nice people.”

Proceeds from the performance will go to humanitarian organizations providing Ukrainians with food and supplies, she said, like the organization her brother is involved with in Ukraine.


All of the $15 concert admission fees are being donated to help Ukrainians, said Aura co-owner Krista Newman. Newman said the concert raised more than $7,000. Quite a few people who did not attend the concert donated online, she added.

During the concert, Natasha’s son, Alex Darling, 12, played a piece by Beethoven. Skala is a piano teacher, and several of her students also performed.

The concert also featured musicians Emil Afrasiyab and his wife, Leyla Babayeva Afrasiyab. They are from Azerbaijan, a country that borders Armenia and Russia.

Newman said one of the songs they performed near the end was a Ukrainian folk song sung in the Ukrainian language. It was an emotional performance, Newman said. “There was a look of happiness on people’s faces. It brought them a little light.”

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