Musician Who Escaped the War Releases Benefit Song for Ukraine Recorded with Russian Orchestra

U.S. composer and pianist Calvin Jones was living in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv before he fled Russia's attack: "Music brings us together," he says

Calvin Jones
Calvin Jones, center, with Taurida Symphony Orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Calvin Jones

In St. Petersburg, Russia in July 2017, composer and pianist Calvin Jones was working with the 55-piece Taurida International Symphony Orchestra to record a dozen songs he'd composed or arranged, including the Ukrainian song "Shchedryk (Carol of the Bells)."

"We had a beautiful collaboration," Jones, an American who had lived in Ukraine since 2014, recalls to PEOPLE. "It's a fun group because they are young, and we were together in peace and unity."

No longer. Jones is now in Montenegro with his Ukrainian wife, Inga, following a hurried escape from the Ukraine capital of Kyiv — including an arduous multi-day car journey to safety — when Russia's invasion began last month.

On Friday, the 55-year-old released for the first time his 2017 rendition of "Schedryk" recorded with the Russian orchestra, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to two charities helping the victims of the invasion, Loads of Love and Music Mission Kiev. (Click here to download the song.)

"Just a few years ago, we were doing this, collaborating together," he says.

Calvin Jones
Calvin Jones performs with Taurida Symphony Orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 2017. Courtesy Calvin Jones

"These musicians are not mongering for war here," Jones tells PEOPLE. "I'm fearful for them and I'm very fearful for my Ukrainian musician friends who are trapped — they're hiding out in the basement bunkers. There's no music going on right now, I'll tell you that much."

The South Dakota native, who has been playing piano since the age of 6, first visited Ukraine in 2012 and soon began performing concerts there.

He met his wife, a computer professional from Kyiv, a year later, and the pair married in 2014.

Calvin Jones
Sunset from Calvin and Inga Jones' apartment Kyiv in 2014. Courtesy Calvin Jones

Early in the morning on Feb. 24, in the onset of Russia's attack, shaking walls and a "big deafening explosion" awoke the couple.

After learning that Russia was invading, Jones says, the couple quickly loaded their car with what possessions they could fit and spent almost a week traveling through Ukraine and Romania before eventually ending up in a friend's Montenegro apartment.

Jones and his wife are now hoping to get a visa for her to enter the U.S. and start their lives anew. Millions of others have also left Ukraine, the United Nations has said, in what is emerging as a major refugee crisis.

"We're trying to put together something that's been torn apart," Jones says. "We don't know yet what will happen."

Calvin Jones
Calvin Jones in 22-hour line of cars escaping Ukraine. Courtesy Calvin Jones

Meanwhile, much of Inga's family remains in Kyiv and one relative has been killed, says Jones. He is helping get her other relatives money to survive.

"It's so hard for them to leave, even though bombs are exploding," he says. "They are just stuck in this. We are watching the explosions and these are so near the people we know in Kyiv."

What horror Russian leader Vladimir Putin is now inflicting, Jones hopes that by sharing the song, he can provide a bit of "hope and peace," he says. "Music brings us together."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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