Updated at 2:30 p.m. March 2

Ukrainian opera singer Olga Abakumova rehearsed on Monday in the cavernous auditorium of Belmont Town Hall, where she'll perform on Friday evening to raise money for her home country immersed in war.

She was accompanied by Stephan Zaets, who plays the 68-string bandura, a Ukrainian folk instrument similar to a lute. She wore a traditional embroidered blouse called a sorochka.

Abakumova came to the U.S. with her eight-year-old daughter in June as part of a special refugee program for Ukrainian citizens. They're now living in Sudbury, where she says the pine trees remind her of the place she grew up. Still, much of her family remains back in Ukraine.

"And I hope everything will be alright,” she said. “And I hope this terrible war [is] stopped.”

Life before the Russian invasion used to be normal, Abakumova said.

"I had a lot of concerts, a lot of performances. I was enjoying life with my family,” she said in Ukrainian, as interpreted by Iryna Piotrowska, a Ukrainian woman who lives in Belmont, and whose idea it was to put on Friday's fundraising concert. “But on the February 24th, everything changed."

They left their home because Russian bombs were targeting cities, and they moved to a village where her in-laws lived. But they couldn't escape the war there, either.

"We were hearing the loud noises of missiles,” she said through the interpreter. “So my daughter and I, we were spending time, days, in the bathroom. I was actually making her bed in the bathroom, and she was sleeping there because it was the safest place in the house."

Zaets and Abakumova
Stefan Zaets (left) plays the bandura to accompany Ukrainian opera singer Olga Abakumova in a rehearsal in Belmont Town Hall
Craig LeMoult GBH News

They applied for the U.S. refugee program, and Abakumova and her daughter came to America in June, leaving her husband behind. He plays the tuba in the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Khmelnytsky Regional Philharmonic.

“And now he has many concerts in Europe supporting Ukraine and [the] Ukrainian army, military," Abakumova said in English.

When she recalls the anguish of bidding her husband farewell, she switches to the Ukrainian language.

"I was crying. My husband was crying,” she said. “It was heartbreaking because we just don't know when we will see each other again."

One of the songs Abakumova will sing Friday is called "Two Colors" and is about a sorochka shirt like the one she was wearing. The song tells of a son leaving home, and his mother sewing him a red and black sorochka.

"Red symbolizes love and black symbolizes sadness,” she said. “It's very apt for the situation, for the current situation now, because it's all tied together: love, and black for sadness, for the difficult situation that we're in."

The idea to hold a fundraising concert came from Iryna Piotrowska, who grew up in Ukraine and now lives in Belmont, where she takes a Zumba dance fitness class in the large auditorium in the town hall where the concert will be held. Piotrowska’s family in Ukraine includes a brother-in-law fighting on the front lines.

“And I would like to do something because I feel terrible inside,” Piotrowska said. “I feel so bad for my family, that they're living in this situation like this.”

Friday's concert in Belmont

The concertwill take place at Belmont Town Hall Friday at 6 p.m., and it will be live streamed on Belmont Media Center's YouTube page. It’s a fundraiser for the Belmont-based nonprofit Refugee Protection International, which will use the money to support two hospitals in southern Ukraine damaged in January.

"They urgently need more surgical equipment, neonatal equipment, OB equipment, so mothers can give birth safely,” said the organization’s president Jennifer Hill. “And that, we will bring in as soon as we get the money, we’ll buy more and bring in across the border."

Belmont concert
(L to R) Belmont resident and concert organizer Iryna Piotrowska, Refugee Protection International president Jennifer Hill, Ukrainian opera singer Olga Abakumova and bandura player Stephan Zaets
Craig LeMoult GBH News

As she looked ahead to Friday's concert, Abakumova switched back to English for a moment.

"For me, it's so important, like to take part in a performance supporting Ukraine, because it's..."

For a moment, she searched for the words in English before saying, in her mother tongue, that her performance Friday is a small contribution that she can make to help.

Correction: This story was updated to correct the date when Olga said she left her home.