Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, leader of the Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, activist and former MP, has announced this week his incorporation into the Ukrainian Armed Forces because for the moment “the art that makes the soul fly is covered by a bulletproof vest,” as he assures in an interview with EFE News.
In the more than 25 years of existence of Okean Elzy, the best-known musical group in Ukraine, their songs have gathered millions of people and have become the anthems of revolutions in the country.
Vakarchuk assures that the only thing he wants to hear now from Russian musicians is “that they have brought millions of people to the streets” saying “Putin, stop the war.”
Since the beginning of the invasion, the Ukrainian musician has been traveling around the country, visiting hospitals, and bringing humanitarian aid to different cities. His videos playing the piano in impromptu concerts have gone viral.
In his hometown, Lvov, people are constantly approaching him, trying to hug him and take a photo with him. Vakarchuk doesn’t turn anyone away and talks to them.
Q: You are traveling in Ukraine and talking to many Ukrainians. Of everything that you have seen, what has struck you the most?
A: What struck me the most is the strong and human spirit of Ukrainians. It is incredible to see how elderly women, young children, people in a vulnerable situation, and those who have no home, continue to resist.
As for particular stories… 14-year-old teenager Masha lost her leg and was crying not because of the pain, but because of the tragedy of life.
The second story is the emotion of contrast. It is the reunion with one of the volunteer battalions that impacted me with their unwavering endurance… I got goosebumps. No rock concert has ever given me that feeling.
Q: Your music has become an important part of modern Ukrainian history and your songs have been part of both revolutions (the Orange Revolution and Maidan). Your songs are like a reflection of the mood of the people. What is the song you play the most during your current travels in Ukraine?
A: It is the song Everything Will Be All Right. Its lyrics say “and everything will be all right for each of us, our time will come.” First, because I believe that Ukraine will win. We will resist and then we will rebuild our country. Second, because I have a strong character, I have a lot of energy and optimism and I can endure many things in life, but there are many people who after almost a month of war can feel emotional exhaustion.
Q: And can artists in the world do something to stop the war?
A: To stop the war there are two options. The first one: Putin has to make a decision to stop shooting and to return the Russian Army to its territory. The second option is for Ukraine to win the war in the military sense. Both options are unrealistic at the moment, but Ukraine will do everything possible to make this happen.
Songs, protests, or fundraisers are unlikely to go to Putin. But all these actions create a very negative background towards the war. And this increases the enthusiasm of politicians to implement sanctions… It also makes politicians give us more military aid.
Q: Is there any hope to hear from Russian artists any protest songs like the famous Give Peace a Chance?
A: The only thing I want to hear from Russian artists is that they have brought millions of people to the streets and saying “Putin, stop the war.” Because war is a crime. I don’t want to hear their songs.
Q: You mean they have to state clearly that they are against the war in Ukraine and not the generic messages about peace that we can often see in the social networks of some Russian artists?
A: They have to state it clearly because it is their fault. They have given Putin the opportunity to cross “red lines” in Chechnya, in Georgia, in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, and now the turn has come for full-scale war in Ukraine.
If we let Putin win this war, he will go to other countries in Europe, there is no doubt about it. I think that subconsciously people in the West, as well as politicians, are beginning to understand this. Therefore, it is no longer the time for songs. At least on the part of the Russians.
Q: Everyone in Ukraine chooses their own method of struggle. In journalism, there is a rule: you take the gun and you can’t write anymore. Restorers in Lviv are ready to protect historical monuments even with weapons. You have joined the Ukrainian Army, is it a symbolic gesture?
A: Now I am part of the Ukrainian Army and I have an order. The chiefs in the army think that the most effective way to fight the enemy for me now is to do what I am doing.
I have the weapon and if at some point I have a feeling that it is necessary, or I receive an order to use it, I will not hesitate.
I was a bit annoyed by your phrase about journalists. In the war for your country, there are no longer journalists, musicians, politicians, cooks or doctors. There are warriors fighting for their future. Journalists… have to fight for their country with any kind of weapon, with a pen or with a real weapon.
Q: When the day comes and the war is over, what will it be like for you?
A: I have two dreams. The first is personal. To embrace all my loved ones and my little boy, and my daughter. And to be happy. That’s the most important thing.
The second is artistic. Finally, we are going to release the album with our songs and go back to what we love to do: to organize a tour and concerts. But all this after the victory.
Q: And are you creating something now?
A: There is always room for art, but now this art has another tone. I write more poetry than songs. And it’s about what’s going on. The art that makes the soul fly is covered by a bulletproof vest at the moment.