“Now is not time for playing guitars. It’s time to take a rifle in your hands.” says singer turned soldier Andriy Khlyvnyuk.
As the war in Ukraine enters its tenth month, Ukrainian singers, actors, writers, sports stars are taking up arms to defend their country. In fact, Ukraine’s vibrant music, sports, and legal scene has become an unofficial news outlet, documenting the Russian-Ukrainian war for an audience that might not be listening to traditional news channels.
Ukrainian artists, singers, writers, and others are swapping the stage, studios and pens for machine guns and body armor. In this way, the Ukrainian world of music, sports, justice, etc, is sending a message to the global community as singers, artists, musicians and lawyers take an active stance by enlisting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, by dedicating time and money to raising awareness worldwide or by simply volunteering.
Ukrainian artists, athletes and entrepreneurs have done more than just put patriotic icons on their videos… many have joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, some temporarily, others more or less permanently.
As Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Ukrainian rock band Boombox says:
“Musicians are peacemakers but now is not time for playing guitars. It’s time to take a rifle in your hands.”
Singer and songwriter Max Barskih
Mykola Bortnyk, better known by his stage name Max Barskih, is a Ukrainian singer and songwriter. He was raised in Kherson, Ukraine. He has released six studio albums, one compilation album and one extended-play. Max won the equivalent of American Idol in 2008.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Barskih cancelled his concert tour in Russia, where he had a huge fan base. After a long and dangerous journey to get his family to safety, he returned home to Kyiv, where he enlisted in the Ukrainian Army. In his free time, he recorded a new and very different single with proceeds going to the Ukrainian military. It’s a whisper-rap EDM banger called Don’t Fuck with Ukraine with ethno-folk motifs and voices singing uncensored lines in Ukrainian and the famous: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself!”
Barskih is currently working in communications for the Ukrainian Army.
“A year ago, I was wearing sequin jackets on the stage. Now everything is green in my wardrobe.” said Max Barskih in an interview.
Violin virtuoso Moisei Bondarenko
Street musician Moisei Bondarenko joined the Ukrainian Army with no hesitation. The Ukrainian “fiddler on the front” has often posted videos and tweets violin in hand, in the middle of the Ukrainian steppe. He recently performed Someone You Loved in liberated Kherson where he was acclaimed and wildly applauded by the locals.
“Dear Friends, I am crying and these are tears of happiness! Beloved Kherson and all our people are incredible. I’m overjoyed to be here with you! I thank God that I have this opportunity. Congratulations, my dear brothers and sisters, and thank you for your support!” wrote Bondarenko on Facebook.
Writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov
Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker, writer and activist from Crimea. Following the Russian occupation of Crimea in February 2014, he was arrested in May 2014 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by a Russian court in August 2015 on charges of plotting terrorism. The conviction was described as fabricated by Amnesty international and other human rights organizations. He was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize in 2018. On 7 September 2019, he was released in a prisoner swap.
During the first days if the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sentsov joined the Territorial Defense Force in Kyiv, calling on the international film community to boycott the Russian cinema. He currently serves somewhere in the southern region of Ukraine.
“Somewhere over there lies my beloved Crimea. It’s not too far, but the road is dark and dangerous. I hope that next year we will liberate you, my dear Crimea. Wait for us!”
Lawyer Yevheniya Zakrevska
Yevheniya Zakrevska is a prominent lawyer and human rights activist based in Kyiv. She works as defense lawyer for the families of the Heavenly Hundred, director of an important legal company and lobbyist for Euromaidan interests in Ukrainian courts. She has examined all the Maidan court cases and published weekly reports. Her goal is to ensure that those guilty of crimes against the Maidan protestors are duly punished.
At the same time, unknown to all, Yevheniya Zakrevska the lawyer attended military courses and training sessions in the Kyiv Territorial Defense Force — preparing for war.
Zakrevska signed up in the Territorial Defense Force in the very first days of the invasion. She serves as senior soldier and senior shooter in a battalion of the Kyiv TDF.
“The Russian army is the aggressor. Period. Each soldier. Each officer. No exceptions, not even those ‘poor boys who didn’t know where they were going and were afraid to say no.’ Therefore, they must be ejected from our territory, and if necessary, destroyed. Such are the rules of war. They began this war; they signed up for it. They’ll get what’s coming….
Many of these aggressors are also war criminals. So, those who survive should be captured and exchanged for our guys, and they should be tried and sentenced…
I really don’t know how long the war will last. But, I plan to travel to Crimea this summer or next summer. I want to drink coffee in Chatyr-Dag, swim in Laspi, hang out at the jazz fest in Koktebel. And this will happen… Or someone will do it for me,” said Zakrevska in an interview.
Tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky
Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky and other international tennis players were recently honoured at a special ceremony at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. Stakhovsky walked onto court in the uniform of the National Guard of Ukraine as the Pala Alpitour was lit up in his country’s national colours.
During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sergiy Stakhovsky left London and returned to Ukraine to join the Armed Forces. In the early weeks of the war, he patrolled the streets of Kyiv as part of the Territorial Defense Force. His next rotation in the eastern Donetsk region begins on December 18.
Since 2018, Stakhovsky has been a winemaker with his own vineyards in the Carpathian region of Ukraine, in the west of the country bordering Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
“This is not how I imagined the end of my career. But a new reality has forced all of us Ukrainians to unite and fight for victory. I thank the command of the National Guard of Ukraine for the opportunity to be here. I thank all Ukrainians for your courage. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Nation!”he wrote in social media.
Film director Akhtem Seitablaiev
Akhtem Seitablaiev is a Crimean Tatar actor, screenwriter and film director working in Kyiv, Ukraine. He was born in Yangiyul, Uzbekistan, where his parents, like thousands of Crimean Tatars, were deported from their native Crimea in May 1944. His family returned home to Crimea in the early 1990s.
Akhtem Seitablaiev has directed several high-profile films, including Haytarma in 2013, Another’s Prayer and Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die! in 2017. He has systematically condemned Russia’s occupation of Crimes; his portrayal of several prominent Crimean Tatars has been widely criticized by hardline Russian nationalists.
Today, Akhtem Seitablaiev is press officer of the 241st Separate Brigade; he records daily military events on camera, exchanges materials with foreign mass media, and gives interviews to French, British and American TV channels.
“Do whatever you’re capable of doing, wherever you are and with whatever means you dispose of… As for me, I believe that Crimea and the Donbas will be liberated even faster than we could have ever imagined.”
Blogger Valerii Markus
Valerii Markus is a writer, blogger and globetrotter. He currently serves as chief master sergeant of the 47th Battalion, which he helped form, using his popularity to recruit new members.
In 2011, as soon as he turned 18, Valerii Markus went to the local recruitment office and signed up in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He later served in the 25th Airborne Brigade in the Donbas, writing about the war in eastern Ukraine as it really was. He was seriously wounded and declared unfit for service.
In 2017, he began his walking tour of foreign countries, namely the Way of St. James (1800km) through France and Spain, then Alaska and Scandinavia.
On August 13, 2018, his first fiction – Footprints on the Road was published and became a bestseller.
“Putin did not order the dekulakization of Ukrainian peasants. Putin did not order the Holodomor. Putin did not order the deportation of Crimean Tatars. Putin did not sentence writer Vasyl Stus to the Gulag. Putin is not directly killing Ukrainians now… These crimes were perpetrated by Russians. That’s how they think and act.”
Writer Artem Chekh
Artem Chekh is a popular Ukrainian writer. He is the author of over ten prose and non-fiction books, some of which have been translated into German, Czech, Polish and English.
Artem Chekh joined the Armed Forces in late 2014 and took part in the Donbas war in 2015-2016. He then wrote a series of essays entitled Absolute Zero and a novel – Who are You? recounting the pain and horror of the war in the Donbas.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Chekh enlisted and was deployed to the Chornobyl zone, north of Kyiv.
“I’m ready to get into any hot spot. There is no fear. There is no silent horror, as there was in the beginning… But I have accepted the possibility of my death as an almost accomplished fact. Crossing this Rubicon has calmed me down, made me braver, stronger, more balanced. So it must be for those who consciously tread the path of war.” wrote Artem Chekh in the New York Times.
Singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk
Andriy Khlyvnyuk is a Ukrainian musician, the frontman and lyricist of the rock band BoomBox.
In February 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Khlyvnyuk cut short his US tour and joined the Territorial Defense Force and shortly afterwards, made an a capella recording of the Ukrainian military song – Oh, the red kalyna in the meadow (Ой у лузі червона калина), which went viral on social media. Khlyvnyuk, wearing fatigues and carrying a machine gun, videoed his performance in Sofiyivska Square in Kyiv and posted it on social media.
On March 26, Khlyvnyuk’s unit came under mortar fire and lost two pickup trucks; the singer was wounded in the face by a shrapnel fragment.
He now serves in the National Police and also operates the strike drone Punisher. At one point, Klyvniuk addressed his fans in Russia and Russians in general.
“For all my fans in Russia, look here…this is what kind of Nazis you’re fighting… Today I saw several of your burned vehicles and dead Russian occupiers, who came here to impose their will upon us, Ukrainians. Fuck you, no way! Go home! We’re waiting for you here in every home, at every window, and even our grannies will beat you with a ladle or try to kill you with a shovel! Do you understand what I’m saying? You’ll burn in hell for what you’re doing here! You’re bombing my city, my Kyiv!”