IT is easy to forget, as we go about our daily lives, that there is a war raging in Europe.

Watching the horror unfold in the Middle East over recent weeks, we must remind ourselves that war continues to claim lives in Ukraine too.

On Sunday afternoon, sitting in the audience of a remarkable concert here in Bradford, I felt some of the sorrow of the people of Ukraine - and the joy and hope of singing together.

The Christmas concert, at Bradford Cathedral, was performed by a choir of Ukrainian people displaced by the war. The Songs for Ukraine Choir was set up by the Royal Opera House last year - and Sunday’s concert was their first performance outside London.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The choir sang at Bradford Cathedral - their first performance outside LondonThe choir sang at Bradford Cathedral - their first performance outside London (Image: Tim Smith)

“When the war started in Ukraine we paused and asked ourselves: ‘What can we do, as a national institution?’” said Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation at the Royal Opera House. What they did was call out for Ukrainian singers, hoping for 50 or so, to put a choir together. More than 400 people applied. The Songs for Ukraine Choir has since gone on to sing for the King and Queen, and on New Year’s Eve the 150-strong choir can be seen on CNN.

The Cathedral concert marked the start of a three-year partnership between the Royal Opera House and Bradford’s City of Culture team, delivering a creative programme to inspire young people and communities.

On Sunday the Songs for Ukraine group was joined by local Ukrainian choirs, primary schoolchildren and the Cathedral youth choir to perform for an audience that included members of Bradford’s own Ukrainian community.

The programme celebrated centuries of Ukrainian Christmas music and included Silent Night, sung in Ukrainian and English. Introducing songs, choir members shared festive customs of their country. There were songs about ancient Ukrainian traditions: singing carols for neighbours, ringing new year bells, and Shchedryk - known as Carol of the Bells - the story of a swallow that flies into homes to predict good fortune for the year ahead.

I found it incredibly moving to watch this choir, in traditional Ukrainian dress, sing songs they have grown up with. Each voice, beautiful and clear, rang out like a chorus of festive bells.

Most poignant of all were two songs about loss. Sorrow and Comfort, Svitlana Dankevych told us, reflects the sadness of leaving the homeland, while Do Not Weep, Rachel is the pain of a mother losing her children. It is, said Svitlana, “an ancient, mournful carol that resonates with our own times”.

“Now in Ukraine, thousands of mothers are losing their children. They are gone, but their souls remain in the hearts of millions of Ukrainians.”

As the choir, comprising mostly women, sang, a baby could be heard happily gurgling a few rows behind me. A joyful moment amidst songs of sorrow.

This concert was billed as “a celebration of the resilience of the Ukrainian community in the UK and around the world”. I was struck not only by the beautiful collective voices of the choir, and the powerful soloists, led by conductor Bohdan Parashchak, but also by their strength. It was a moving performance, but stoic rather than sentimental.

Somewhere in all the music, I thought of the time I went to Ukraine. I still remember the children I met in two small-town orphanages. Some were lively and cheeky, others were quiet, with sad eyes. The boys I met there will be young men now, fighting in the war. Some of them may have been killed over the past 21 months. I was invited into the home of our interpreter and her young family; we ate together and I played with the children. Their little boy will soon be the age of a soldier.

Songs for Ukraine has enabled people who are a long way from home to connect and make music. This concert was a beautiful, deeply moving celebration of their homeland - and of the power and unity of music.