The 13th episode of SNL's 47th season opened with Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong introducing members of Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York.
'Saturday Night Live' returned from a nearly month-long hiatus on February 26 with a powerful and solemn tribute to the country of Ukraine. Instead of a normally raucous cold open, the 13th episode of the NBC late-night mainstay's 47th season opened with cast members Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong introducing members of Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York. The unsmiling duo stepped aside from center stage at Studio 8H to allow the approximately 30-member group, wearing intricately embroidered traditional white vyshyvankas, to perform an emotional rendition of the 'Prayer for Ukraine.'
The tribute symbolized the resilient spirit of the Eastern European nation that has been under an unprecedented military assault from Russia on multiple fronts since last week. According to USA Today, the United Nations has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties—including at least 64 dead—caused by the invasion spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin. While over 150,000 people have been forced to flee Ukraine to neighboring countries, the United Nations has warned that this number could grow to 4 million in the upcoming days. Despite several nations condemning Russia's attack on Ukraine, President Putin ramped up tensions by ordering Russia's nuclear deterrent forces to be on high alert.
Having sung this many times at the end of Ukrainian mass in my youth it brought tears to my eyes to see the wonderful @nbcsnl institution I have loved my whole life honor the Ukrainian sacrifice and stand united in the fight for a people and democracy to survive. Bravo!!— Andrew Kernytsky 🇺🇦 (@kernytsky) February 27, 2022
McKinnon and Strong returned to the stage at the end of the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York's performance to introduce the show by delivering SNL's signature catchphrase, "Live... From New York. It's Saturday night." However, instead of immediately cutting to the show's opening credits, the camera panned to an aerial view and zoomed into a display of bouquets of sunflowers—the national flower of Ukraine—and votive candles positioned to spell out "Kyiv," the Ukrainian capital. The sunflowers remained visible on the stage during 'SNL' alumnus Mulaney's monologue.
The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka returned to the stage at the end of the program along with all other show performers and Mulaney to bid farewell. Sharing a video of their performance on Facebook on Sunday, the group wrote: "United we stand for Ukraine! Thank you for having us #snl." According to Ukrainian Weekly, the chorus was founded by Ukrainian immigrants after World War II to preserve their cultural heritage in a new homeland. The group is now 72 years old and composed strictly of nonprofessional performers.
In a statement shared to the Ukrainian Contemporary Music Festival (UCMF) Instagram stories, Leah Batstone—the creative director of UCMF—showered high praise on 'SNL' for how it treated members of the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York while filming the episode. "Yesterday at about 12.30 pm, I received a message through our social media. A producer from 'Saturday Night Live' was looking for a way to reach Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York in the hopes that they might open the show with a song," she revealed. "Dumka sung at our inaugural festival in 2020 and director Vasyl Hrechynsky is someone I know well, so I jumped at the opportunity, which for a child of the 90s growing up in the US, seemed absolutely immense."
Pretty rare that the entertainment industry gets the reaction to a tragedy right. This is one of those times.— For Sure Katie 🇺🇦🌻 (@heymaybekatie) February 27, 2022
Batstone went on to share how moved she was to know 'SNL' was interested in "acknowledging the devastating events in Ukraine and doing so through Ukrainian music." The 'SNL' cast and crew continued to vow Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York upon their arrival at Rockefeller Center for the show. "The first thing that struck me upon our arrival was how many times the fantastic staff of 'SNL' thanked us! They were almost more excited about the performance than many of the choir members," Batstone revealed. "As we went down to the dress rehearsal, I noticed props of sunflowers lining the hallways. I thought maybe it was a nice coincidence. I had not imagined that they had been selected for this broadcast as a tribute to Ukraine. When we entered to see the table of candles spelling out 'KYIV,' the correct Ukrainian transliteration of the capital city, I felt the swell of tears behind my eyes."
Batstone concluded her statement by sharing a heartwarming anecdote about 'SNL' cast member Kenan Thompson. "Mr. Hrechynsky told me later that Kenan Thompson shocked him by saying 'duzhe dyakuyu' as he passed. He turned and asked, 'do you know Ukrainian?' Kenan answered, 'I just know that.' I've watched Kenan since he was a kid on Nickelodeon," she wrote. "He's been a symbol of American comedy for my generation since Kenan and Kel were welcoming us to Good Burger. The idea that he would know how to say 'thank you' in Ukrainian both stunned me and filled me with indescribable hope... I cannot put into words the gratitude I feel to 'SNL' and their incredible—seriously incredible—team."