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Yo-Yo Ma performs a musical protest outside the Russian Embassy

Yo-Yo Ma played Ukraine's national anthem and brought the audience to its feet at the Kennedy Center on Monday.
Larry French
Getty Images for SiriusXM
Yo-Yo Ma played Ukraine's national anthem and brought the audience to its feet at the Kennedy Center on Monday.

World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma made a personal stand with Ukraine on Monday, setting up his instrument on the sidewalk outside of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., next to an improvised street sign reading, "Zelensky Way."

Ma was in D.C. to perform at the Kennedy Center on Monday night, for a show presented by Washington Performing Arts. At the start of their performance, Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Leonidas Kavakos played Ukraine's national anthem — prompting the entire audience to stand in unity. The cellist has recently used his Twitter feed to call for peace in Ukraine and a withdrawal of Russian forces.

The Russian Embassy is on Wisconsin Avenue, a few blocks south of the Washington National Cathedral. It sits behind stone walls and a tall fence, and that's where Ma was spotted next to the gate, playing his cello for anyone who would listen.

It seems that the renowned musician went largely unnoticed until a passing cyclist stopped in wonder.

"I just asked him — point-blank — are you Yo-Yo Ma?" Ryan Stitt told local TV station WUSA, adding that the two then had a nice chat.

"The thing I remember him saying was, 'Everyone has to do something,' " Stitt said.

The Russian diplomatic mission will get another pro-peace message on Wednesday, when the Glover Park Hotel, which sits directly across the street, unveils a 60-foot Ukrainian flag as part of a fundraiser to send humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians affected by Russia's invasion.

The strip of road outside of the Russian Embassy in Washington is called Boris Nemtsov Plaza, in honor of the Putin critic and opposition leaderwho was murdered near the Kremlin in Moscow in 2015.

This story first appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.