Russian invasion takes Slava Vakarchuk to his most dangerous rock tour across Ukraine

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When Russian rockets started hitting his homeland, Ukraine’s rock star Sviatoslav “Slava” Vakarchuk asked himself how he could help a country facing yet another Russian invasion in less than a decade. Soon after the first bombs exploded in multiple towns, he enlisted in the armed forces and has since visited more than a dozen war affected towns across the country. 

“The most effective way for me was to use my popularity to inspire people and boost the morale of those who fight for our country. I wanted to be useful,” says Vakarchuk who, for the last month, has been performing in the most unusual places – from underground bomb shelters to children’s hospitals and to empty streets of war-torn towns.  

Leader of the Holos Party Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is pictured during the presentation of the party's regional branch and campaign staff, Vinnytsia, central Ukraine. 

Leader of the Holos Party Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is pictured during the presentation of the party’s regional branch and campaign staff, Vinnytsia, central Ukraine. 
(Oleksandr Lapin/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Vakarchuk’s band Okean Elzy (Elza’s Ocean) is the most decorated Ukrainian rock band with a record of bringing the biggest crowds in Kiev during the 2004 Orange Revolution and 2013 Euromaidan protests.  

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When asked by Fox News how it feels to stand in the center of an underground metro station turned into a bomb shelter and perform patriotic songs? – “Absolutely relevant to the situation,” he answers, adding “you understand that now you need to sing to these people in the underground because these people need you much more than all the fans you sing to during peaceful times.”  

Slava Vakarchuk is a household name in Ukraine. From debuting in 1994 as the band’s vocalist to twice becoming a member of parliament and creating his own political party – 46-year-old singer has a long-standing history of social and political activism.  

Okean Elzy band leader Sviatoslav Vakarchuk performs during the Ark Ukraine: Ten Centuries of Ukrainian Music concert in Mykhailivska Square in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.

Okean Elzy band leader Sviatoslav Vakarchuk performs during the Ark Ukraine: Ten Centuries of Ukrainian Music concert in Mykhailivska Square in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.
(Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

In the 2019 parliamentary elections Vakarchuk’s party “Holos” (which means both voice and vote in Ukrainian) secured 20 of 423 seats as the opposition party. Now that seems like ancient history: “there is no opposition today, everybody is supporting the government, the president, and we are all one team fighting against Russia.” 

Ultimately, Vakarchuk left both parliament and the party. When asked if he ever regretted the decision, he quickly answers him and politics was never a “love story”.   

“It is something I couldn’t help doing, because I felt it was the right place and right application of my efforts. I was trying to change the political landscape, especially when I created the party. My desire was to bring new people to parliament. And then when I understood that it was working, I just came back to what I think I could do better for my country – to do arts, music and inspire people.” 

Lead vocalist Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is pictured during an impromptu open-air concert of the Okean Elzy rock band on the pedestrian and cycling bridge across Volodymyrskyi Descent, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.

Lead vocalist Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is pictured during an impromptu open-air concert of the Okean Elzy rock band on the pedestrian and cycling bridge across Volodymyrskyi Descent, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.
(Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Okean Elzy has refused to perform in Russia since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a decision he calls solid. “You cannot perform in the country that annexed your territory and pretend nothing happened.” And he stood by that decision for 8 years. When asked if he can imagine ever performing in Russia again, he says, he is not ready to answer the question.

“Asking this today is like asking Albert Einstein in 1936 if he could see himself ever going to Germany. The answer is – I don’t know.  It’s very difficult to predict. Definitely this is not on my radar right now.” 

Some of Okean Elzy’s old hits are finding a new light in wartime, like “Bez boyu”- in which Vakarchuk vows to not surrender without putting up a good fight, just like his country, something Vakarchuk prides himself on. 

“Ukraine today is the bravest nation in the world, and I mean it. It is true that we did not have a choice, we had to fight. But we had a choice on how to fight and the way we’ve chosen makes me very proud. Everyone from generals to soldiers, to nurses and ordinary drivers is trying to do their best for Ukraine’s victory.” 

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As somebody who has spent some time in the States as a fellow at the Yale and Stanford universities and performed in many corners of the world, Vakarchuk believes, Ukrainian’s today are fighting for values that Americans created.  

“I think that it is an obligation of the Western civilization to make some sacrifice when Ukraine is making such a big sacrifice to fight the common enemy, who wants to destroy the very foundation of what the free world means.” 

 Okean Elzy’s other hit that came up during his interview with Fox News is “Obiymy” (“Hug me” in Ukrainian), the lyrics of which say “when the day comes, the war will end.” Fox News asked him what he is looking forward to once that day comes.

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“To see my family and to kiss my young son”, he says. Vakarchuk’s 28-year-old daughter volunteers in Lviv, and they manage to meet once in a while, but he has not seen his 9-month-old son since the war erupted.  

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