Artists from Ukraine have spoken to NME about the ongoing conflict with Russia, and what the rest of the world can do to help.
Ukraine has officially severed diplomatic ties with Russia, and declared martial law, after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an attack on the neighbouring nation on Thursday (February 24).
In the time since the invasion launched, 198 Ukrainians – including three children – have been killed at the time of writing, according to Health Minister Viktor Liashko. A further 1,115 people have reportedly been wounded, including 33 children (via Al Jazeera). Russian authorities have not released casualty figures for their forces.
Speaking to NME from London, where they have lived for nine years, electro-pop duo Bloom Twins described the situation as “terrifying”.
“It has really affected us,” said singer Anna Kuprienko. “We’re talking to our family, we have a lot of friends and our second manager living there. We go back to the Ukraine quite a lot. We were only there two months ago. We were hopeful that this situation with Russia wouldn’t go where it has and that it would resolve.
“I literally spoke to my dad and our manager like six hours before everything happened. I called them and no one believed this would happen, then we all woke up to this crazy news. Then everyone was in a state of shock and panic and it became impossible to leave.”
Hailing Ukraine’s “incredible and unique culture” of “interesting artists and fashion icons”, the duo of twin sisters (who grew up in Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv) explained how their nationality ran through everything they do – and that nothing would ever extinguish the identity of their people.
“We are always true to our roots,” Sonia Kuprienko told NME. “We would never forget about our past. Even now, having lived here for nearly 10 years, people tell us that our melodies are very much Ukrainian and Slavic.
She added: “Ukraine cannot be erased. It cannot. It will always stay with us, no matter what. It’s in our hearts.”
On the death toll and threat of what’s at stake in their native country, Anna said time was of the essence for immediate action. “A few days ago it felt like a safe place,” she explained. “People were going to restaurants, people were going to work – then within a few hours the whole thing changed. You look at the press and images of men shooting in the streets of Kyiv, and there are no people and it’s being demolished in just a few days. It’s possible that everything could be destroyed overnight. It’s a scary thing.”
She continued: “I hope for peace for everyone, and for everyone to have a piece of each other’s love. For the people who I love, I just want them to be safe and get out of there. It’s impossible to even get into the car from your house and drive 20km.
“My immediate hope is for them to be safe, and my future hope is for Ukraine to not be demolished and for people to do something to stop this. It’s ridiculous. How does this happen in 2022? This shouldn’t be possible.”
Sonia stressed that “we also have a lot of Russian people who we love, and Russian people who love Ukraine and love living there” and that this conflict “will not change our hearts towards them”, but the duo said they supported sanctions against Russia as a way to help bring about the end of bloodshed.
“I think it’s really hard on Russian people who are pure and want a change to happen,” said Anna. “To stop giving them a visa must be terrible, but on the other hand what can you do to stop people from dying? In a way I would much prefer this stuff to happen, because we need to stop people dying in an immediate way.”
As for Western artists who might have upcoming shows in Russia, Sonia said that they too should be stopped until Russia’s invasion is over. “Touring in Russia right now doesn’t sound like a good idea,” she said. “Ukrainians should be hiding while Russians are waiting for us to entertain them? I don’t think that’s logical.”
Bloom Twins ended by advising people from other countries to “look at the bigger picture” to take the time to see what people from inside Ukraine are posting online in order to “follow what is truthfully happening”, as well as signing petitions and joining in protests as they have been to make their voices heard and bring about action and aid for those suffering, in addition to long-lasting change and a peaceful end to the conflict.
“It’s important to strike for change,” said Anna. “Now is the time for push for that. Post about it, go to the protests and talk about it. People think it’s just a Ukrainian conflict, but don’t even know what’s going to happen later. No one knows what’s going to happen to the Ukraine, no one knows what’s going to happen to the whole of Europe, no one knows what’s going to happen a few days from now. People need to do something to stop this because if it goes any further then it might be very bad for everyone.”
She added: “Do not be indifferent. Imagine this happening in your own country – it’s heartbreaking. It’s not like Ukraine is the first place this has happened to. It happens to so many countries all the time. People need to be aware of this stuff and try to make a change because tomorrow it could be them.”
One artist who remains in Ukraine is singer-songwriter Khrystyna Soloviy. Having been inspired by the Maidan revolution (or Revolution of Dignity) that saw the ousting of now-exiled president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, she penned the song ‘Trymai’ (‘Hold Me‘) which went viral with 38million views and found Soloviy fame.
Earlier this week, she released the song ‘Ya Nesu Myr’ (‘I Bring Peace’) in reaction to the Russian threat. Check out the song above.
“This is one of the hardest songs for me,” she told NME. “I released this demo 10 hours before the Russian invasion. In these last peace hours I felt anxiety and tremor. The mood of the song is dictated by life in Ukraine with the permanent war with Russia for the last eight years. This song is addressed to young people who decide to take up arms to defend our freedom.”
She continued: “We are a generation that has never seen the Soviet Union and was born in a free Ukraine. Ukrainians are not Russians, as said by the Russian government. We have a difficult, depressed history of Russian colonisation. With this song I want to support the spirit of my friends and listeners.
“It’s about the just war theory, when war is the last resort of survival. We are dreaming about living in peace and doing the usual things for us: to have strolls in free Kyiv, to go to the seaside in the free Crimea.”
Speaking to NME from her hometown of Lviv in West Ukraine near Poland, she described the city as “an easy target”.
“Every day we have several civil defence sirens,” she said. “We feel fear, but not helplessness. The whole civilised world stand with us. We believe in victory.”
Soloviy said that writing and releasing songs was “the only thing I can do now as an artist”, while the war unfolded around her. “Now the future of Ukraine is at stake as a free country or a colonised appendage again,” she said. “I believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. With the help from the allies they inflict huge losses on the Russian troops, the largest in Russian history.”
The singer also argued that the idea of Western artists wishing to tour Russia was “insane”, saying that “concerts are a business; Russia is very toxic now, they are an aggressor against the free world. How can you do business with an aggressor? How could they pay taxes in this country? This will be toleration of war.”
Ultimately, she called “all eyes to Ukraine” and for people elsewhere to show solidarity where they could.
“Don’t just watch the news and scroll feeds,” she said. “Unite in rallies, demand sanctions from your government against Russia, do not tolerate Russian goods. Discover and support new Ukrainian independent music, which was born during the war with Russia: Onuka, Latexfauna, DakhaBrakha.
“Andy Warhol, Serge Gainsbourg and many others have Ukrainian origin; their parents were forced to emigrate due to the wars in Ukraine. We are about a free future, not about war. Don’t just look at us as victims, we are creators.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian experimental producer NFNR (Neither Famous Nor Rich) emailed NME while “in subway or shelter”.
“Since February 24, my country and Kyiv is under attack of Russian invasion, cities are bombed and rockets crush houses of my friends,” she said. “Attacks were along all territories of Ukraine and a lot from the sky from Russia and Belarus.”
She continued: “I’m still in my capital due to many circumstances and spending most of time in subway or shelter. Here, we never know if we may wake up next morning.
“I ask you to support Ukraine and share our pleas among your friends that we need a lot resources to protect people. Please donate here to assist the army with medicine, helmets and bulletproof vests, or this one organisation that saves us all. Thank you.”
The actions of Putin, who has claimed that Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine and that his country’s actions amount to a “special military operation”, have drawn widespread condemnation from across the globe.
As well as reactions from figures from the worlds of music, politics, entertainment and beyond in the West, this week also saw Russian rapper Oxxxymiron cancelled a series of shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I know that most people in Russia are against this war, and I am confident that the more people would talk about their real attitude to it, the faster we can stop this horror,” said Oxxxymiron in a statement. “I cannot entertain you when Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine—when residents of Kyiv are forced to hide in basements and in the metro, while people are dying.”
He is one of several other Russian musicians who have voiced their protest at the war. Kasta, Shym, Vladi, Khamil, Zmey, and Noize MC have all voiced their opposition to the attack on Ukraine.
Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks spoke out to say that her “heart was broken” over the situation and compared Putin to Hitler, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos paid tribute to the “open and welcoming” people of Kyiv, and Foals honoured the Ukrainian crew of their recent ‘2am video‘, while both Miley Cyrus and Yunblud were among the artists to issue statements of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Actor Sean Penn is currently in the Ukraine making a documentary about the situation.
It was also announced yesterday (Friday February 25), that Russia would not be allowed to participate this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Ukraine, which has a population of 44million people, borders both Russia and the European Union. As the BBC reports, Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards embracing European institutions like NATO and the EU.
Putin is now demanding guarantees from the West and Ukraine that it will not join NATO, a defensive alliance of 30 countries, and that Ukraine demilitarise and become a neutral state.