Kate McKinnon on What Makes “Saturday Night Live” Work

There were no smiles, there were no jokes, there were no zany cameos during Saturday Night Live‘s Cold Open this weekend.

Instead, cast members Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong came out and somberly introduced the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York, who sang “Prayer for Ukraine.” The group performed the patriotic 19th century hymn while standing in front of a table of candles spelling out “KYIV,” as people in the Ukrainian capital of the same name and other parts of the Eastern European country faced the start of a fourth day of attacks by Russian forces.

Lyrics of the song include, “Lord, oh the Great and Almighty / Protect our beloved Ukraine / Bless her with freedom and light / Of your holy rays.”

After the chorus finished the performance, McKinnon and Strong returned to declare, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” and returning host John Mulaney later came onstage to begin his monologue.

In addition to SNL, individual celebrities have also been using their platforms to raise awareness and show support for victims of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. Dancing With the StarsMaks Chmerovskiy, who was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union in 1980, has been posting on Instagram harrowing live dispatches from the country, where he recently filmed a reality competition series. And Blake Lively and husband Ryan Reynolds have pledged  to match up to $1 million in aid to displaced Ukrainians.

“@vancityreynolds and I are doubling every dollar donated to @usaforunhcr up to $1,000,000,” Blake wrote on Instagram Saturday, Feb. 26. “@usaforunhcr is on the ground helping the 50,000+ Ukrainians who had to flee their homes in less than 48 hours. @usaforunhcr is providing life saving aid, and also working with neighboring countries to ensure protection for these families.”

Saturday’s episode of SNL did not mark the first time the NBC series has dedicated its Cold Open to victims of tragedies. An episode that aired days after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre began with a performance of “Silent Night” by the New York City Children’s Chorus.

In 2011, on the first SNL episode that aired after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Cold Open was presented by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke about unity and resilience while standing in front of members of the New York City Fire Department and New York Police Department, who continued to stand solemnly as musical guest Paul Simon performed Simon & Garfunkel‘s “The Boxer.”

(E! and NBC are part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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