KYIV, Ukraine: Every morning, Valentyn Dudkin picks up his trombone - an instrument he hadn’t touched in 30 years - to play Ukraine’s national anthem in the courtyard of his apartment building in Kyiv.
The 80-year-old retired orchestra director dusted off his musical instrument after Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine a year ago.
“I haven’t played the trombone for over 30 years,” Dudkin, a graduate of the Donetsk Conservatory in eastern Ukraine, tells AFP.
“The start of the full-scale war made me pick up the trombone again.”
Rain or shine and with his 83-year-old wife by his side, Dudkin begins playing at 9:01am, after observing a minute’s silence first.
His repertoire usually consists of the national anthem and “Chervona Kalyna”, a hugely popular folk song that has become an unofficial anthem of the resistance.
Dudkin has quickly gained a small following. Neighbours praise his efforts to cheer them up with his outdoor concerts.
On a recent morning, several people gather to listen to the musician despite the rain.
Two women unfurl the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine with the signature patriotic slogan “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!” written on them.
Neighbours joke and laugh, while several chihuahuas dressed in yellow and blue coats huddle together in the rain.
The small crowd then falls silent as Dudkin begins playing. The music resonates across the courtyard flanked by colourful tower blocks and the small dogs yap.
‘Duty to ourselves’
Dudkin says the locals thank him for his music. “You cheer us up. You bring us back to life,” they tell him.
Local resident Natalya Chayka says the morning gatherings - “every day, regardless of the weather” - are to tell the universe of their “strong desire” to defeat the Russians.
“We got to know each other and decided to sing the Ukrainian anthem every morning under Valentyn’s leadership,” says neighbour Svitlana Novikova.
“He said: ‘We will sing until we win,” she added.
Dudkin’s youngest fan is two-year-old Andryusha, who wakes his grandmother up every day, anxious not to miss “Du du”.
Back at home, Dudkin and his wife, who hail from the eastern region of Donetsk, show AFP black and white photos of their past life.
“We were so beautiful back then... Wow!” Dudkin exclaims.
Fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern region of Donetsk broke out in 2014 and intensified after Putin began the full-scale was on Ukraine in February 2022.
Eastern Ukrainian cities like Bakhmut have been razed to the ground.
The couple say the outdoor concerts are their contribution to the war effort.
“We feel a duty to do so, a duty to ourselves,” Dudkin says.