(NEW YORK) – PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) today condemned the murder of the Ukrainian conductor Yuri Kerpatenko, who was reportedly shot and killed in early October by Russian soldiers after he refused to perform in a propaganda concert organized by the occupying regime. 

Kerpatenko, the principal conductor of the acclaimed Gileya Chamber Orchestra, was murdered at home by members of the Russian military in the occupied city of Kherson after refusing to participate in an October 1 concert, which was organized by the region’s Russia-installed government to normalize Russia’s invasion and occupation by indicating “the return of peaceful life” to the city.  A statement from Ukraine’s culture ministry said that in the lead up to his death, Kerpatenko “categorically refused to cooperate with the occupants.”

Julie Trébault, ARC director, said: “Today, we are outraged by the targeted killing of Yuri Kerpatenko, and our hearts are with his family, friends, and colleagues. He was reportedly killed for exercising that most basic of artistic freedoms–choosing how and for whom he performed. We condemn the state-sponsored murder of this conductor, and hope that it will not go unpunished among the mounting examples of Russia’s war crimes.” 

Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director, said: “We are reminded once again of Putin’s goals not only to subsume the territory of Ukraine, but also to subjugate and destroy its culture. The killing of Kerpatenko and other vocal opponents of this war violates Russia’s most basic international commitments to respect free expression and human rights.”

Ukrainian and international artists and writers were swift in their condemnation of Kerpatenko’s murder: “The history of Russia imposing a ‘comply or die’ policy against artists is nothing new. It has a history which spans for hundreds of years,” said the Finnish-Ukrainian conductor Dalia Stasevska. 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.”

Kerpatenko, who was also the principal conductor of Kherson’s Mykola Kulish Music and Drama Theatre, had posted a series of defiant messages against the Russian occupation of his home region until May. The exact date of his killing remains unknown.

About the Artists at Risk Connection

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently established a grantmaking initiative for at-risk visual artists from Ukraine and Eurasia, including an emergency fund for basic living expenses as well as a resilience grant to help artists sustain their creative practices. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protdurinect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057