'A very dark mood' - Russian Norfolk stately home owner's despair at war

Boris Konoshenko is a former Russian newspaper editor now living in north Norfolk. 

Boris Konoshenko is a former Russian newspaper editor now living in north Norfolk. - Credit: Boris Konoshenko

A Russian man who plays the organ at churches in north Norfolk has organised a fundraiser for Ukraine - but says he is struggling to process news from the war.

Boris Konoshenko, who owns Swafield Hall near North Walsham, is an organist at St Botolph's Church in Trunch, where on Sunday (March 13) he played a Ukrainian folk song called 'I'm Looking at the Sky'.

He said: "I’m proud of Russian culture but at the moment I just can’t play Russian music. I’d rather play Ukrainian music, because politics is connected with culture."

Boris Konoshenko, owner of Swafield Hall, on the beach at Mundesley with his dogs. 

Boris Konoshenko, owner of Swafield Hall, on the beach at Mundesley with his dogs. - Credit: Boris Konoshenko

Mr Konoshenko, 60, who has previously spoken of his devastation at Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine, was born in St Petersburg in the Soviet era when it was called Leningrad.

"It was a system where you had to play by the rules," he said. "My grandfather was arrested as an enemy of the people during the reign of Stalin, sent to a gulag for 15 years and died there."

He sees echoes of that time in what is happening in Russia today.

"I read the Moscow newspapers," he said. "The headlines are about how Ukraine was going to attack Russia, attack Belarus, it was going to destroy the world with biological weapons. It’s hard to even read.

"Among my friends who are against the war, it’s a very dark mood on social media, a sense of powerlessness."

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He also said that censorship of social media means he is losing an important connection with his homeland.

"What I enjoy here in the UK is the community life, village fetes, community concerts. You take it for granted. But we didn’t have it in the Soviet Union, it wasn’t allowed. Here it’s everywhere, it’s part of the English way of life," he said.

Mr Konoshenko used to be the editor-in-chief and managing director of Metro, formerly Moscow's most-read newspaper.

But he said the media was becoming more and more controlled by the government, and he emigrated to Britain in 2014, the same year Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.  

Swafield Hall in north Norfolk, owned by Boris Konoshenko and Tim Payne.

Swafield Hall in north Norfolk, owned by Boris Konoshenko and Tim Payne. - Credit: Supplied by Boris Konoshenko

Last week, his daughter Maria, 33, left Moscow to be with her father in Norfolk.

"She was in a quite stressful situation, not only stressful," he said.

"You can feel that everything you were proud of, a country with great culture, literature, music, you can’t be proud anymore and you can’t explain why, how did it happen?"

Maria Konoshenko

Maria Konoshenko, 33, a Russian-born mezzosoprano will sing Ukrainian songs for a fundraiser at St Botolph's Church in Trunch in north Norfolk. - Credit: Courtesy of Boris Konoshenko

Songs for Ukraine

Norfolk musicians will come together to sing Ukrainian and English songs to raise money for Ukrainian refugees at St Botolph's Church in Trunch on April 2.

Maria Konoshenko, the Russian born mezzo-soprano who has performed in Norfolk many times, will sing her favourite Ukrainian folk songs in Ukrainian.

She will also perform an anti-war rock song by the Ukrainian group Okean Elzy.

William Falconer - tenor, administrator of the Southrepps Classical Music Festival and accomplished singer and the Musical Director of the Norfolk Camerata Choir - will sing some pieces by Schubert.

Ervin Munir, a singer/songwriter based in Sheringham, will be singing contemporary songs accompanied by Teresa Williams on piano.

All proceeds will be donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to aid the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.