‘Our culture is at stake’: Ukrainians use powerful music to voice their protests as Russia declares war

24 February 2022, 17:38 | Updated: 28 February 2022, 09:53

Ukrainians sing national anthem during the Unity March for Ukraine in downtown Lviv on 19 February
Ukrainians sing national anthem during the Unity March for Ukraine in downtown Lviv on 19 February. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

As Russia invades Ukraine, musicians around the world play and sing for peace...

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On the morning of 24 February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Attacks have occurred across the country, including in the capital, Kyiv.

World leaders have condemned the move and multiple countries have already promised significant sanctions against Russia following the news.

On the evening prior to invasion, Ukrainian citizens gathered in the city square of Kramatorsk in East Ukraine and sang the national anthem. Video footage has also emerged on Twitter of citizens in Poland and Russia singing to show solidarity through music (watch below).

Ukrainian musician, Sofia Yatsyuk, 26, spoke to Classic FM about her concern for her family and friends in the country.

“My whole family are musicians,” she said. “And they’re all obviously panicking and afraid. Until today, this still all seemed somewhat hypothetical. I think people were just going about their normal lives and still hoping that war could be prevented. But obviously, today, it’s all changed.

“Now, I don’t think people are thinking about their career, or things like concert cancellations, it’s all just about survival at this point.”

Read more: Poignant footage of Ukrainian people singing in shelters during Russian raids

Yatsyuk, who is currently studying for her Doctorate in Violin performance at McGill University in Canada, expressed guilt for being so far away from her family at this time.

“One of my friends this morning said he had to flee at 5am because they were under attack from shelling in Kharkiv,” Yatsyuk adds, “I think for someone that is not currently living in Ukraine, you just have this enormous sense of guilt.

“I’m going to a protest in Montreal at 3pm and it’s just like the least that you can do; I’m speaking to my family as much as possible, but you do feel very guilty and powerless.”

Protests are taking place across the world, and in the UK, protests are currently ongoing outside 10 Downing Street.

Joining in the protest, was Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Yurchuk, who most recently appeared in Tosca at the Royal Opera House, London. The 35-year-old international opera singer was filmed by Classic FM singing his country’s national anthem amidst the protest.

Yurchuk told Classic FM that he “sang for peace. And in support and solidarity for all Ukrainians”.

Read more: Ukrainian operatic baritone sings his national hymn at 10 Downing Street in ‘call for peace’

Yuriy Yurchuk sings Ukrainian national hymn outside 10 Downing Street

Protestors gathered outside the UK Prime Minister’s London residence to call for tougher sanctions to be imposed on Russia. Chants heard at the protest included, “Hands off Ukraine” and “Stop Putin, stop the war”.

Organised by the community group London Euromaidan, made up of Ukrainians and Europeans living in London, the group is demanding stricter sanctions on Russia, including freezing the UK assets of 50 oligarchs and for President Putin’s funds to be blocked.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has promised that the UK and its allies will use a “massive package of sanctions” which will “hobble the Russian economy”.

Ukrainians hold a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside Downing Street, central London
Ukrainians hold a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside Downing Street, central London. Picture: Alamy

Protests are also happening in the US, and some have moved to the concert hall.

Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev, was scheduled to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for three performances at Carnegie Hall, in New York, this weekend.

However, his appearance was been protested multiple times due to the conductor’s close ties to the Russian President. Critics were concerned that applause for Gergiev at Carnegie Hall over the weekend could be received in Moscow as applause for Putin.

In 2014, the conductor gave a pro-Putin interview, justifying the Russian President’s previous intervention in Ukraine, and critics are suggesting that it is likely the musician’s stance has not changed.

The Carnegie Hall website experienced heavy traffic on 24 February, as visitors reported waiting times of up to a quarter of an hour. At the end of the day, it was announced that due to “recent world events”, Gergiev would be replaced by Canadian conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Oksana Lyniv, director of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, took to Instagram on 25 February to ask for international support for her country.

Hashtagging #stopwarinukraine, Lyniv shared her asks to her international followers on “behalf of Ukrainian citizens”.

Elsewhere in the world of music, one day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Eurovision Song Contest made a statement banning Russia from taking part in the competition as their inclusion could bring the competition into disrepute “in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine”.

The European Broadcasting Union said it remained dedicated to “protecting the values of a cultural competition which promotes international exchange and understanding, brings audiences together, celebrates diversity through music and unites Europe on one stage”.

Pop musicians from both Ukraine and Russia are also publicly condemning President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine across their personal social media channels.

Musician Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova, member of the Russian protest band Pussy Riot, posted on Instagram on the morning of 24 February 2022, that “Putin has just started a war with Ukraine”, and called the President a “clown-psychopath” in her Stories.

Ivan Dorn, one of Ukraine’s best-known singers, has put out a call on Instagram to his Russian fans saying: “Please... convey the message, that Ukraine is an independent, sovereign state. Please, let’s stop this disaster”. The well-known musician was a coach on The Voice Ukraine and a judge for X Factor Ukraine.

Ukrainian folk group DakhaBrakha also shared online that it would be cancelling its upcoming concerts and “hoping to play them in the near future”.

Music in Ukraine has helped the country assert its own cultural identity, an identity that faces danger from Putin.

On Monday 21 February, Putin stated that, “Modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia,” in a speech television on state television.

Some Ukrainian artists have made a cultural boycott of Russia, in order to prove this isn’t the case. More and more artists are choosing to sing in Ukrainian over Russian, and embrace their own musical styles.

Speaking to Classic FM, Yatsyuk added: “The culture, the passion of the people, the language, all of it is at stake right now.

“Obviously, people’s lives most importantly, first and foremost, but there’s everything else that that comes with that.”