Russian soldiers have shot dead a Ukrainian musician in his home after he refused to take part in a concert in occupied Kherson, according to the culture ministry in Kyiv.
Conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko declined to take part in a concert “intended by the occupiers to demonstrate the so-called ‘improvement of peaceful life’ in Kherson”, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page.
The concert on 1 October was intended to feature the Gileya chamber orchestra, of which Kerpatenko was the principal conductor, but he “categorically refused to cooperate with the occupants”, the statement said.
Kerpatenko, who was also the principal conductor of Kherson’s Mykola Kulish Music and Drama Theatre, had been posting defiant messages on his Facebook page until May.
The Kherson regional prosecutor’s office in Ukraine has launched a formal investigation “on the basis of violations of the laws and customs of war, combined with intentional murder”. Family members outside Kherson lost contact with the conductor in September, it said.
Condemnation by Ukrainian and international artists was swift. “The history of Russia imposing a ‘comply or die’ policy against artists is nothing new. It has a history which spans for hundred of years,” said the Finnish-Ukrainian conductor Dalia Stasevska, who was scheduled to conduct the Last Night of the Proms at London’s Albert Hall last month before it was cancelled because of the Queen’s death.
“I have seen too much silence from Russian colleagues,” she said. “Would this be the time for Russian musicians, especially those living and working abroad, to finally step up and take a stand against the Russian regime’s actions in Ukraine?”
A fortnight ago Stasevska drove a truck of humanitarian supplies into Lviv from her home in Finland, before conducting the INSO-Lviv orchestra in a concert of Ukrainian contemporary music.
“We know the Russian regime is hunting activists, journalists, artists, community leaders, and anyone ready to resist the occupation,” said the prizewinning Ukrainian novelist turned war crimes investigator Victoria Amelina.
“Yet, even knowing the current pattern and history, we cannot and, more importantly, shouldn’t get used to hearing about more brutal murders of a bright, talented, brave people whose only fault was being Ukrainian.”
She drew a parallel between Kerpatenko and Mykola Kulish, the Ukrainian playwright after whom the theatre where the conductor worked is named.
“Kulish was shot on 3 November 1937, near Sandarmokh, with 289 other Ukrainian writers, artists and intellectuals. Yuriy Kerpatenko was shot in his home in Kherson in October 2022,” she said.
The Russians’ actions were “pure genocide”, said the conductor Semyon Bychkov from Paris, where he was performing as music director of the Czech Philharmonic. The St Petersburg-born conductor left Russia as a young man in the 1970s.
“The tragic irony of this is that talk about the superiority of Russian culture, its humanism,” he said. “And here they murdered someone who is actually bringing beauty to people’s lives. It is sickening.
“The bullets don’t distinguish between people. It didn’t make me feel worse that this man was a conductor, it just confirmed the pure evil that’s been going on even before the first bombs fell on Ukraine.”
The novelist Andrey Kurkov, author of Death and the Penguin, said: ““Now the name of Yuriy Kerpatenko will be added to the list of murdered artists of Ukraine. I increasingly think that Russia is not only seeking to occupy Ukrainian territories, but also diligently destroying Ukrainian identity, an important part of which is Ukrainian culture.”
Ukrainian author Oleksandr Mykhed, who joined the military at the outbreak of the war, and whose home was destroyed by Russian shelling, said: “Russia is trying to reconstruct the Soviet Union in the occupied territories. To reconstruct something improbable.
“One of the key components of Soviet policy was the destruction of culture of the enslaved countries. Murder of cultural figures, purging of libraries, banning of national languages.
“The modern occupiers are fully following this strategy. Destroying culture, sports, education.
“And when our territories are deoccupied, we will learn about dozens and hundreds of such terrible stories. Stories of destruction and heroic resistance.”
“It is absolutely terrifying,” said chief stage director of Kyiv’s National Opera of Ukraine, Anatoliy Solovianenko. “Whether he was a doctor, or a worker, or an artist, it makes no difference. He was a human, and he refused to comply.”