Pavel Sulyandziga is a Russian opera singer who is performing two benefit concerts in Yarmouth to raise funds for victims of war in Ukraine. Contributed / Tom Bell Media

A Russian-born opera singer who is scheduled to perform in Yarmouth this week to support victims of the conflict in Ukraine hopes to spread a message of peace through his music and make people aware of the atrocities of war.

“War is not what we should be doing,” said Pavel Sulyandziga, whose father lives in Yarmouth. “I think art is one of the things which can bring peace to the world.”

Most of his family still loves in Siberia, he said, and he has many friends from Ukraine.


“So it’s very sensitive for me what’s happening over there,” Sulyandziga said of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We should be fighting hunger, providing education to people, not killing each other.”

Sulyandziga was born in Siberia and is a member of the indigenous tribe Udege. He moved to Moscow with his family when he was 6 and went on to attend the Gnesin Russian Academy of Music. A little over six years ago, he moved to New York City after being accepted into the Mannes School of Music. Since then, he has resided in the city while and performing  professionally on a work visa throughout the U.S.

“It’s a nomad’s life. I travel a lot, kind of like my ancestors,” he said.


“Singing has been my passion since I was 3 or 4 years old. My grandma, who loved singing, would go into the fields, in her huge garden, and she would sing while she would work. We would go with her and I would sing along with her and she would teach me her songs.”

If his love of music comes from his grandmother, Sulyandziga’s father, for whom he is named, modeled compassion as the founder of the Batani Foundation in Yarmouth in 2018. The nonprofit “develops programs that promote human rights and self-determination for indigenous people in Russia.”

The elder Sulyandziga had founded a similar foundation in Russia in 2006, but the government declared it a foreign agency and brought a criminal case against it for separatism, he said.  Fearing for their safety under the Putin regime, the family fled Russia for Yarmouth in 2016 at the suggestion of a family friend who was already established there.

The Yarmouth community and Yarmouth Public Schools, where his five younger children attend, have welcomed their family and assisted them with everything from groceries to Christmas gifts over the years, the elder Sulyandziga said.

He said the Batani Foundation “condemns the aggression of Russia under Putin’s regime” and feels the invasion of Ukraine has caused “considerable hardship for Ukrainian children and citizens.”

He hoped his son’s concerts this week would increase public awareness about the “tragedy” in Ukraine.


“First and foremost, I hope Americans, children and students will better understand the reality of the tragedy that is unfolding currently in Ukraine,” he told The Forecaster through a translator. “We see that many Americans are sympathetic to what is happening. They want to help Ukraine and we hope that our town of Yarmouth will also get involved.”

Sulyandziga is set to perform a March 29 public benefit concert at First Parish Congregational Church and another for students at Yarmouth High School, organized by the school’s Global Action Club. The club of about 15 students “work hard to raise awareness to help make the world a better place,” according to their advisor, social studies teacher David Pearl. The students’ focus each year changes, depending on global affairs and students’ interests.

“I hope people gain a larger perspective on people’s experiences around the world because (Sulyandziga’s father) immigrated from Russia because they were discriminated against as an indigenous Russian person,” Global Action Club student leader Olivia May said before the concert. “Just hearing that perspective, I think will be a reality check to a lot of us in Yarmouth where issues like that aren’t often on our minds.”

The Global Action Club hopes to raise $2,000. For each donation, a student will receive a flower petal that will be used to create a large mural of a sunflower, which is Ukraine’s national flower.

Proceeds from the concerts will benefit Partners for World Health’s Ukraine Fund. The Portland-based nonprofit collects medical supplies to send to individuals, communities and health care facilities in need. Director of Communications Paul Golding said the concerts “are particularly poignant and demonstrate the commitment and compassion of people in Maine and throughout New England who have shown great generosity.”

Partners for World Health has Golding has sent two shipments of medical supplies to Ukraine and is preparing two more shipments, Golding said.


First Parish Congregational Church immediately agreed to host Sulyandziga’s benefit concert, said Communications Director Katie Casper.

“This event embodies the values of First Parish: connecting across differences in the name of love and the sacredness of all humanity. We hope that those who attend this concert will feel a sense of connection to each other, and the world and that this can instill a sense of hope here in Yarmouth, and beyond.”

Hope, positivity and peace are Sulyandiziga’s messages.

“I just want to send a message that war is a terrible thing,” Sulyandziga said. “Please do everything you can to prevent these kinds of things from happening. Focus on better things.”

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