Anastasiya Naplekova grew up in Ukraine, studied piano in Kharkiv and now sends money back to help musicians during the county’s war with Russia.
On Wednesday afternoon, Naplekova played 11 pieces for residents of the Oak Hammock retirement community in a benefit concert. She’s played several Ukraine-focused concerts over the past few months in Boca Raton and Coral Gables, raising funds for UN’s World Food Programme, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNECEF) and her own organization that helps Ukrainian musicians.
“I do not view this simply as a choice,” Naplekova said in an interview after the concert. “I feel it is my duty, a moral obligation to help.”
Anne Carlson-Bonus, a 15-year resident at Oak Hammock and 1962 UF graduate, supports Naplekova’s efforts to use her talents and support her country. And her talents, Carlson-Bonus said, are top notch.
“I thought she was fantastic. I just can’t imagine how her fingers go so fast and her mind remembers everything,” Carlson-Bonus said.
David Skeel, another Oak Hammock resident, has loved music since his childhood. He concurred with Carlson-Bonus, calling the concert “like something I’d never heard before.”
At first glance, Naplekova’s choice of pieces might seem odd. All 11 were composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a Russian. But Naplekova said that he would have opposed the war in Ukraine just like he did the Russian revolution in 1917, prompting his immigration to America.
Naplekova explains that he denounced the Soviet Union, signing an open letter to the New York Times that spelled out all the atrocities in the country.
In return, the Soviet Union banned Rachmaninoff’s music for a time, and Naplekova said many now consider him an American composer. He and his wife became citizens shortly before his death, and his family has so far refused requests by Russia to return his remains.
Naplekova’s own path to the United State came through the Czech Republic. Naplekova participated in the Rudolf Firkusny International Piano Competition held in Prague. She won the competition and one of the judges was Boaz Sharon, head of UF’s piano department.
Sharon invited her to play at a concert in Gainesville in 2006 and two years after that, Naplekova started her master's at UF. She then moved to earn her doctorate in piano performance and pedagogy at the University of Miami under Santiago Rodriguez. She’s taught adjunct at UF and now teaches piano and travels for concerts.
“I'm in a very unique position because I know people there enough to know who needs help, and how I can help and to understand the situation,” Naplekova said.
Naplekova’s Go Fund Me page for musicians in Ukraine has raised just over $26,000. Many of them are former classmates of Naplekova or people with whom she once shared a stage. On her website, she explains the urgency in the efforts.
“While I can still transfer funds directly into their accounts, I am most afraid of what would happen if Kharkiv ends up on the other side of the curtain after the war,” Naplekova says.
Naplekova will perform another benefit concert in Gainesville this fall at the Historic Thomas Center. Details on the event are still in the works.
You can learn more about Naplekova at her professional website.