the Ukrainian rock star performs in front of the troops; music boosts morale in times of war
“It’s really cool. I’m impressed, actually,” said Lt. Stanislav Kyslov, who days earlier was part of a nighttime troop transport that came under fire after the convoy was detected by drones.
Vakarchuk, 47, has been described as Ukraine’s Bruce Springsteen. He has long blended music, social justice and national politics, including serving two terms in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.
Known simply as Slava by his fans, Okean Elzy frontman Vakarchuk has cut his music down to little more than a passionate, raspy voice and embarked on a solo tour to awaken the spirits of his country in the war. against Russia.
Ukrainians seemed all the more thrilled with the inspirational and unifying power of music after Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won top honors in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Vakarchuk played for the workers on Friday in the control room of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Between several performances on Monday for military personnel, he stopped in Bakhmut to shake hands with postal workers who continued to deliver mail through disputed territory, just hours before a Russian missile hit a residential area of the city.
His solo road show brought him that much closer to the Ukrainians, especially the soldiers who defied all expectations by fending off the might of Russia.
“It’s good for morale to know we haven’t been forgotten,” Private Ihor Sochka, 23, said after Vakarchuk’s performance here on Monday.
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The Ukrainian army has allowed Washington Post journalists access to a forward base about 40 km from the front lines on the condition that its exact location is not identified. A spokesman for the unit – the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade – also declined to say how many soldiers were stationed there.
The temporary base was close to several Russian attacks on Monday, including the bombardment of what was believed to be an ammonium nitrate depot and the airstrike in Bakhmut, which left a crater 40 feet in diameter and badly damaged a building.
During his performance, Vakarchuk (pronounced va-kar-CHOOK) urged Ukrainians to stand firm at a time when the momentum of the war appears to be shifting in their favor even as it intensifies in the east. He said Russia attacked Ukraine because it feared it was infected with the “freedom gene”.
“But we have to endure,” he told the soldiers. “I am here to tell you that the whole country is proud of you. You are incredibly cool. No one believed Ukraine could be like this. But today, I believe that Ukraine is a country supported and admired by the whole world.
He addressed a few remarks to Russian soldiers, appealing to their conscience and urging them to resist further participation in a war already marked by mass destruction and alleged war crimes.
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“We can see Russian POWs saying, ‘I was just following orders,'” Vakarchuk said. “I only want to say one thing: either you change the government that gives you these criminal orders, or you are complicit in the crime.”
Then he started to play. Some soldiers sat on steel trusses or other scrap metal. Others stood on pallets filled with bulletproof vests. Some soldiers sang and many took out smartphones to make videos.
The highlight of the show was “City of Mary,” a song honoring the beleaguered Ukrainian fighters inside the massive Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol as they ended their weeks-long stand. Vakarchuk said he was never able to write a song on request until Svyatoslav “Kalina” Palamar, the deputy commander of the Nationalist Azov Regiment, asked him to.
“Imagine their situation now: the harsh conditions, a lack of medicine and a lot of wounded, a lack of food and water, a lack of ammunition,” Vakarchuk told the soldiers. “And he wants me to write a song. At that moment, I realized that a real warrior is different from a mercenary with a weapon, in that he fights with his heart.
Won’t break my dream
My heart will never betray its faith
The just city of Mary.
After strumming his last chords, he was invaded by soldiers.
Anatoliy Shipanovskiy, a big fan who re-enlisted in the army the day after the invasion of Russia, took a front row seat. He said that he and his wife, Iryna, attended almost all of Vakarchuk’s concerts near Lviv, their hometown. They even bought tickets in advance for a concert later this month, which shouldn’t happen now.
Even before calling his wife to tell her that Vakarchuk would perform for his unit, Shipanovskiy knew she would be mad with jealousy.
“I want to attend too!” she told him.
“Well, come on! he remembers telling her, as soldiers thronged for selfies and autographs, many of which went to friends and family in villages back home or straight to social media.
“Sviatoslav, he has a big mission with his songs, with his motivational speech,” said Kyslov, 36, the lieutenant whose convoy came under fire.
Kyslov said Vakarchuk, with his varied career and stature now, seems to embody something unique for Ukrainians, and his performance near the front seemed like a particularly useful way to reach soldiers in his Donbass unit. This region of eastern Ukraine has neighbors, and sometimes even families, who have split loyalties between Russia and Ukraine.
“A lot of them are from small villages, small towns, and they need extra motivation to support the whole country,” he said.
Irynka Hromotska, Serhii Korolchuk, Yehvhan Semekhin and Anastasia Vlasova contributed to this report.