Music drowns out shelling in Ukraine flashpoint town

Avdiivka (Ukraine) (AFP) - As artillery fire echoes throughout the flashpoint Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the sound of guitar and violin music fills the apartment where the Savkevich family are hunkered down.

Since Sunday the industrial town of some 25,000 in east Ukraine has been the focal point of a surge in deadly clashes between government forces and Russian-backed rebels.

Ukraine's nearly three-year conflict has flared up again after a relative lull, claiming over two dozen lives and leaving residents of Avdiivka without electricity and water.

English-teacher Svitlana Savkevich and her husband Oleksiy have turned to music to help distract their children from the danger outside.

"We haven't had power for several days as the shelling knocked it out," Svitlana, 37, tells AFP.

"But we try to find something good in this -- we can't watch television, we can't read the news on the internet, but at least we have more time to read books with the kids and organise concerts."

Luckily for them they have the ideal house guest -- Maryna Bondas, a Ukrainian violinist who normally plays in the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra but came back to her homeland as a volunteer to give concerts to government troops and school children on the frontline.

"When I play on the violin I see hope in eyes of the people listening to me. A hope for peace," Bondas says.

- Paganini to shelling -

The latest violence caught residents by surprise but the musician and her host family are making the most of their time sheltering inside.

In the evening gloom Bondas gets out her violin and plays the uplifting strains of Paganini's Caprice No. 13 before beginning an improvised piece with 11-year-old Danylo on the guitar and seven-year-old Mariyka.

"Last year we gathered children from the war zone and sent them for holiday in Germany. That's how I got to know them," Bondas says.

"Now the war in my homeland, Ukraine that I love, called me back. And although I live in Germany I understood that I can help here."

For the children the music provides a brief respite as they try to sit out the fighting that has already seen the family move to stay with relatives in a slightly safer part of town.

At night they all go down into an underground shelter to sleep but at other times, with schools closed by the fighting, they sip tea and play music to try to help themselves forget.

But even then the war is never far away.

"I can't say that we have got used to this. It is difficult to get used to it and sometimes you get so scared your hands shake," says Svitlana.

"That is why we have to try to entertain the children -- to put on performances and play."

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