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Ukrainian Musicians In Wartime

The response of the Ukrainian music scene to the Russian invasion has been courageous, inventive and inspiring.

The war in Ukraine has affected all Ukrainians and that includes, of course, those involved its famously vibrant and colourful music scene.Some have taken up arms, some are raising humanitarian funds, others are raising awareness abroad of their rich and beautiful culture that is now under attack.


Dartsya Tarkovska

Dartsya Tarkovska is the co-founder of Music Export Ukraine. She is now a refugee who has fled over the border to Poland. I asked her about the different ways in which Ukrainian musicians were reacting.

Chris Cummins: How are Ukrainian musicians trying to help in any way they can in this situation? Can you give me some examples?

Dartsya Tarkovska: Some of them actually joined Ukrainian army or territorial defence teams; these making sure that everything is safe and sound on the streets. So actually, one of the most popular Ukrainian artists joined either the Army or territorial defence, bands like the pop-rock band Boombox. So it’s a bit bizarre since some of these bands were supposed to actually release some new albums these days or would touring all over Ukraine and playing in front of fans in stadiums and stuff. But now they’re taking up arms and they’re just taking care of our cities and making sure we’re OK.

CC: Yeah, it’s so hard for me to get my head around this because, of course, I’m in the privileged position of being from a country that has not, during my lifetime, been invaded by an aggressive and powerful neighbor. But music has so often been about peace and flowers in gun-barrels. But now people are deciding that they they now need to take up arms.

DT: Yes. True. And actually Boombox frontman Andriy Khlyvnyuk wrote about that the other day. He wrote it’s so good that nobody was going to ask me about my artistic plans in the near future, because my dearest future is to make sure Ukraine wins so that we’re all safe now. But it is bizarre.

However, other musicians are also work as volunteers or helping collect money for humanitarian purposes. Or at least they’re spreading the relevant information to make sure their fans are informed about the current state of Ukraine because there’s so much misinformation.

CC: Yeah, I wanted to talk about that because Ukrainian music is very popular amongst Ukrainians, of course, but also a lot of the Ukrainian music acts and bands have great followings in Russia. And there, as we know, there’s a very controlled message about what’s happening in Ukraine. The Kremlin is controlling the information about the war. Are Ukrainian musicians able to use their fan base to try and tell fans in Russia what’s been done in their name?

DT: Absolutely. I think this is one of the core messages and approaches that they’re using these days through their social media channels.

Often they’re actually speaking in Russian via their stories and writing posts in Russian to make sure that they can tell relevant information specifically to their fan community in Russia.

Somebody asked me the other day whether I thought this was really going to make a difference? Why would anyone listen to a popular musician on issues like war rather than the Russian president? But I do believe that these messages are working like drops in the ocean one by one. They’re spreading the real story about what is going on and they do actually make a difference.

CC: What sort of response have they got from fans in Russia have been fed this narrative in the evening news that their troops are somehow “de-Nazifying” Ukraine. Then artists from Ukraine is saying: “No! Look, this is what’s happening to women and children. This is what bombs from Russia are doing to our lives.” What sort of response do they get back from from the Russian fans when they confront them with this reality?

DT: It’s definitely a mix of feelings. But it’s important to keep this thing going. And actually one of the important things that Ukrainian artists do is that they’re not just sharing things from war photographers and and professional journalists, but they’re also describing their actual lives the way they’re spending time in shelters, the way they see their actual neighbourhood being bombed. So that’s really, really important to keep people updated. It is personal.

CC: A lot of us look up to musicians, I certainly heroes. I’ve been really taken by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, frontman of the Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy. He’s been described as a kind of Bruce Springsteen of Ukraine. And he’s been seen delivering food and fuel to Kyiv in his car and visiting hospitals and also devastated Kharkiv.. And I guess that that must give people some sense of of hope or at least a sense of togetherness when when someone like him is out there doing that sort of thing?

DT: Absolutely. He is one of the probably the most famous Ukrainian musician. Even prior to the beginning of the war he was a national icon. But nowadays he’s doing an absolutely amazing job. He’s visiting shelters and hospitals, and sometimes singing. Indeed, he’s not just singing his own songs, but also the ones that the majority of Ukrainians absolutely love. So music actually makes a difference in this kind of situation because you probably see this video is the way people are singing all together. So it’s not just his own performance, but rather a group experience.

CC: Now, a lot of radio stations, including FM4, of course, have been putting out more and more music made by Ukrainian artists. We feel a sense of powerless. We feel that we’re not helping enough. And of course, it might seem such a tiny, insignificant thing to do when people are under rockets and being shelled out. But is that somehow appreciated by Ukrainians? Does it mean anything to community that they’re seeing that their music is being played abroad and people are getting them to know more about the culture?

DT: One hundred percent, yes. This has always been one of my biggest dream to make more people listening to Ukrainian music.

I’m really sad about the conditions that have been created that mean people are listening more to Ukrainian music now, but, you know, it is very important for everybody to remember that there’s more than just war in Ukraine. Indeed, we have an amazing culture. Wonderful musicians, talented photographers, writers, actors.

And so the more Ukrainian music is played, the more we’re spreading this kind of message. So this type of support is very appreciated.

CC: And there are these concerts for Ukraine going on across Europe and beyond. There’s one going on today in Vienna that fm4 is co-hosting. What do you think about these concerts for Ukraine?

DT: I do believe that these are important because we’re spreading the important message. I’ve been in Poland for a week or so and I’m absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of support that foreigners give to Ukrainians.

I do believe, and I feel actually from the bottom of my heart that this kind of support, it’s not just about the government, it’s not just about the politicians. It’s about the people who really, really feel and believe and understand our struggle and are willing to help. So using music as a soft power to support us, to spread the information, and of course the money and donations to charity organisations… well that is a really, really important act of support.

CC: And as well as these big initiatives, some individual artists from Ukraine are organizing concerts small tours and giving the money from those events to help refugees as well as vulnerable people back in Ukraine. Can you tell me anything about that?

DT: Yes, absolutely. For example, there’s a Ukrainian singer songwriter called Postman With his promoter, he actually established a tour all over Poland. That’s over 20 cities, I believe. All of the moneys that he gathers throughout this tour is going to different charity initiatives. He isn’t going to take any income from 20 concerts, but that’s his decision to do. And that really makes a difference.

We really hope that more and more Ukrainian artists are going to feel safe so that they could keep on giving concerts or at least creating music. Because guess what? Whether Ukrainian musicians are abroad or still in Ukraine, they still keep on creating new music. So even being in Kiev, there are some new releases coming out these days.

CC: It is an incredible story of resilience. I guess you must be very proud of the Ukrainian music scene. And I guess you are proud of the the culture, the people in general, how they’ve responded in these terrible weeks.

DT: Yes, true. True. I think that Ukrainians never felt more united and more in love with each other and more willing to support. And there is a concept that we all live in by right now that everybody is in the right place. Regardless of what you’re doing, whether you are in a territorial defence team or you’re creating a new viral video or you’re making a song about Ukraine it all helps. We’re doing everything in order to win, survive and become even happier than we were.

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