Orchestra plays national anthem in central Kyiv as Russians advance

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KYIV, March 9 (Reuters) - On a Kyiv square where recent popular uprisings have scuppered Moscow's ambitions in Ukraine, an orchestra assembled before a small crowd on Wednesday to play the national anthem as Russian forces advanced on the city.

The Kyiv-Classic Symphony Orchestra also performed an excerpt from Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", on which the European Union's anthem is based - a nod to the Ukraine government's desire to move closer to Europe and away from Russia's orbit.

Dozens of people gathered to watch on the central Maidan Square, some waving Ukrainian flags. They applauded when the national anthem was finished and a woman cried out "To Ukraine!"

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The lyrics of the anthem include the lines, "Ukraine has not yet perished.... our enemies will vanish like dew in the sun."

Conductor Herman Makarenko told reporters that the concert was a call for peace.

"We would like to support our president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who called, calls and will call to all governments of the world (to) stop the war in Ukraine."

He said he managed to gather around 20 musicians for the performance, instead of 65-70 who normally make up the ensemble.

Tens of thousands of people, worried about being cut off by enemy troops, have left the capital for the relative safety of western Ukraine.

Russian forces are advancing on Kyiv from several directions, although heavy fighting on the outskirts has slowed their progress.

Air raid sirens wailed in Kyiv on Wednesday and soldiers searched cars at checkpoints on main thoroughfares, reminders that the city of 3.4 million is on a war footing.

Thousands of civilians have joined local defence units to support Ukraine's armed forces and civilians in some areas under Russian control have gathered on streets to protest.

Moscow launched what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb. 24 to destroy its neighbour's military capabilities and remove what it says are dangerous nationalists in Kyiv.

Ukraine and its allies call Russia's actions a brutal invasion that has killed hundreds of civilians and forced millions to flee abroad.

Kyiv has mostly been spared the heavy shelling that devastated parts of other urban centres including Kharkiv, Mariupol and Sumy, but Ukrainian forces are bolstering defences in anticipation of a full assault.

Wednesday's concert was held on the vast square where thousands of Ukrainian protesters set up a tent city in 2013 and 2014 to oppose then-President Viktor Yanukovich's shock decision to suspend talks with the EU and revive ties with Moscow.

More than 100 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces, and in 2014 Yanukovich was toppled and forced to flee the country.

A decade earlier, the square had been a major focal point for participants in the so-called "Orange Revolution", which overturned a disputed election won by Yanukovich and led to the pro-Western leader Viktor Yushchenko taking his place.

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Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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