The Cologne Classical Ensemble is shocked and appalled by the brutal war that President Putin has ordered and with which the Russian army is currently covering free, democratic and sovereign Ukraine with death and destruction. Putin has thus set in motion a spiral of war, violence and suffering - and he and his government alone are responsible for it.

The musicians in our collective have very close family and friendship ties with both countries - Russia and Ukraine. Born in various former republics of the Soviet Union - in Belarus, in Russia, in Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan - many of us have close and direct relatives and ancestors from Ukraine. Since childhood, we have been connected by the closest friendships with Ukrainians. Peaceful coexistence and mutual respect have always been a matter of course for us.

For many years now, we have watched with great concern, anger and despair how Putin and his government steal from, manipulate and oppress their own people. Boris Nemtsov was killed exactly seven years ago, Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, to name just two of a sad, long list of people who spoke their minds, stood up for a better Russia, and were murdered for it.

The greatest country on earth, blessed with so many ressources, such a wonderful culture and so many great people and opportunities, Putin has turned it into a land of poverty, regression and depression.

The brave people who took to the streets for months last year after the rigged elections in Belarus and risked their lives to overthrow the criminal regime of Alexander Lukashenko - Putin has spat in their faces by using billions in aid to enable his evil companion Lukashenko to bloodily suppress the uprising. Our dear colleague, the musician and Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, is still in prison today.

For so many years, Ukrainians have been fighting for their freedom and for a just and democratic country! Time and again, the Russian leadership has done everything in its power to suppress this striving for an open, free country. And unfortunately, for far too long, Germany too has only half-heartedly supported Ukraine here, giving preference to doing business with Putin's regime. The German government failed to support the democratic transformation in the countries of Eastern Europe with full commitment earlier and to show Putin clear limits.

And now - war, violence, destruction.

At least most people have finally woken up and are hopefully now acting decisively, prudently and more wisely.

From the bottom of our hearts we join the loud demands of the whole world: Putin, stop this war! Immediately! Freedom for Ukraine!

And freedom for the people of Belarus, Russia and all former Soviet republics where corrupt systems, autocrats and dictators still rule!

Our hearts are with all those who are now in suffering and danger and who nevertheless remain courageous and do not give up. We are with the Ukrainians who are fighting for their country. And with the Russians who, despite all the danger, are now standing up in their own country against Putin and this barbaric war.