As the war in Ukraine enters its 13th month, Ukrainian singers, actors, writers, and sports stars are taking up arms to defend their country. 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 following traditional news channels. An athlete, a rap group, a poet, a singer, writer, lawyer, activist, and journalist, are all among those who’ve put aside their life’s work to fight for Ukraine’s survival.
By dedicating time and money to raising awareness, by enlisting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine temporarily or permanently, by volunteering, the country’s arts community is reaching out to their counterparts around the world.
For Ukrainian biathlete Dmytro Pidrychnyi, sports cannot be separated from politics. In his appeal to his fans, he says:
“Don’t tell me that sport is not related to politics. IT IS RELATED!!! While you read these words, soldiers and civilians in my Motherland are dying.”
Athlete Maksym Chornyi
Maksym Chornyi is a Ukrainian triathlon athlete. He has won the highest awards not only in Ukraine, but also abroad. In China, he was awarded the title of Master of Sports. He takes part in national and international competitions, and also coaches youngsters in his spare time.
Maksym has served in the ranks of the National Guard of Ukraine since 2001 and represents the Zaporizhzhia military unit at competitions.
Maksym was supposed to go to a sports training camp in Cyprus in March 2022, but Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and all plans and competitions were cancelled. Now, he, like many of his sports comrades, has taken up arms to defend Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian flag has often been raised abroad in my honour. But today, it’s time to defend our blue-and-yellow banner and take up arms … Today, we have a single common goal – to win the fight for our country’s independence,” says Maksym.
Rapper Yevhen Volodchenko
Yevhen Volodchenko, a.k.a., Zheka Kurgan, of Kurgan & Agregat, is a Ukrainian rapper, who, with his fellow hip-hoppers, brothers Amil and Ramil Nasirov, has taken Ukrainian pop culture to new heights. The three men all come from the village of Blyzniuky, Kharkiv Oblast.
In 2021, Kharkiv-based Kurgan & Agregat launched their concert tour, during which they covered about half of Ukraine’s regional centres and planned to continue in the spring of 2022, but it never happened …
Their music is an interesting blend of surzhyk (a mixed argotic language used in some regions of Ukraine) and the northeastern dialect of Slobozhan.
Listen to Kurgan’s Cry of the Soul (Крик душі)
But the invasion destroyed all future plans. Today, Volodchenko serves as commander of the Kraken Regiment, a Ukrainian volunteer unit, part of the Special Forces of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine (HUR). The Nasirov brothers help the Ukrainian Army, raising funds among their loyal Instagram audience.
“After our victory, Ukrainians will have to come to terms with everything that’s happened. As for Kurgan & Agregat, we hope to go on a tour of Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas,” say the members of the group with a wide, positive smile.
Human rights activist Maksym Butkevych
Maksym Butkevych is a Ukrainian human rights activist and journalist. He sat on the board of Ukraine’s Amnesty International, worked in the Ukrainian service of the BBC, and co-founded Zmina Human Rights Centre and Hromadske Radio.
Butkevych coordinates the No Borders Project / Проєкт Без Кордонів, which focuses on helping asylum seekers and internally displaced persons and countering hate speech.
For most of his life, Butkevych was a pacifist and anti-war activist. However, he volunteered to join Ukraine’s Armed Forces after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. At the end of June 2022, he was captured by the Russians in Luhansk Oblast. Russian propaganda channels have published several stories accusing Butkevych and calling him a “propagandist,” a “Nazi,” and a “punitive squad commander.”
On March 6, Maksym Butkevych made the following public announcement:
“I am forced to put my work helping refugees, and my humanitarian and human rights activities on hold …
Dear friends, you’ve probably noticed that lately, I haven’t been as active as usual. I think you can understand why … There are times when you must be ready to stand up for what’s important. I firmly believe that. The rest will come after our victory. First, the Motherland and Freedom.
Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the Heroes,” he wrote.
On March 9, 2023, the “Supreme Court” of Russian-annexed Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” sentenced Maksym Butkevych to 13 years in prison. Butkevych was found guilty of abusing civilians, using prohibited means in an armed conflict, attempted murder, and deliberate damage to private property
Artist, writer Valeriy Puzik
Valeriy Puzik is a Ukrainian artist, writer, and film director. He has participated in exhibitions and displayed his artwork in museums in Ukraine and abroad. He has authored several books, such as Bezdomni Psy (Homeless Dogs) and Monolit, for which he won several awards. Many of his stories focus on Ukrainian soldiers who return home after serving in the ATO/JFO zone. He describes their feelings in a highly realistic way, avoiding pity and pathos.
In 2015, Puzik went to war in the Donbas as part of the 5th Battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps Pravy Sektor. Together with his comrades, he also made a short documentary film called Ceasefire, whose plot unfolds in the early days of the war, when a ceasefire was announced in eastern Ukraine on February 15, 2015. Puzik also describes the apocalyptic landscapes and destruction in Donetsk Oblast.
Puzik returned to serve in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He carries his art material with him and between battles, sits down to paint birds, landscapes, and villages on ammo boxes and shell fragments.
From the trenches somewhere in Ukraine, Valeriy Puzik writes to his young son:
“I miss my home so much. I miss our daily routine. I miss our games, walks, talks, readings and stories. The unbroken stories that flow from day to day. I don’t want to come home for a few hours or a day; I want to be home all the time, not to look at the clock or think that I have to leave. I’m tired of living neither here nor there. I want a continuous flow of fun and games and lots of mischief …
I often hear people talking about points of invincibility. But, I know you are my point of invincibility. Without you and your mother, I would have plunged into a world of total greyness.
You give me the strength and energy to move closer to our dream.
It is for you that I wake up in the morning.
Some time ago I wrote that you and mom are my superheroes.
They say light overcomes darkness.
You are my beacons of light in any kind of weather.
I love you.
very, very, very much.”
Biathlete Dmytro Pidruchnyi
Dmytro Pidruchnyi is a Ukrainian biathlete. He participated in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, and in 2019 he took first place at the World Championships in Ostersund, Sweden.
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Pidruchnyi cancelled all his plans, and in March 2022, he joined the National Guard of Ukraine. Posting on different social media, he wrote a loud appeal to his sports audience.
“Dear Biathlon Family, my international friends and fans,
My team and I remain in Ukraine to protect our families and homes from russian armed forces, which invaded Ukraine on February 24. No one plans to participate in any future competitions.
I ask you to help us! Don’t tell me that sport is not related to politics. IT IS RELATED!!! While you read these words, soldiers and civilians in my Motherland are dying.
I beg you, DON’T STAY AWAY, please!”
Writer Olena Herasymiuk
Olena Herasymiuk is a poet, essayist and translator. In 2013, she was awarded the Ukrainian President’s Prize for Poetry, which she refused in protest against the Yanukovych regime. She is part of the younger generation of Ukrainian poets, whose work is marked by a newly awakening national consciousness. In her texts, she often poses questions on the relationship between the self and the outside world. Her poetry has been translated into nine languages.
Together with Denys Polishchuk, she initiated the Rozstrilianyi Kalender (Executed Calendar), which collects and publishes documents and information on the persecution of Ukrainian intellectuals during the Soviet era.
In 2017, Herasymiuk joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Medical Battalion Hospitaliery. In February 2022, thanks to the foresight of their commander Yana Zinkevych, and their combat readiness, the battalion was immediately deployed to the frontline.
“I am a poet. I write invisible poems for my slain readers.”
Singer, musician Oleksandr “Sashko” Polozhynskyi
Sashko Polozhynskyi is a popular singer, musician, and activist from Lutsk. In 1996, Polozhynskyi and Vasyl Zinkevych founded the group Tartak, a hip-hop/rapcore/alternative crossover band, which blended guitar rock, hip hop and dance to produce a repertoire of energy-blasting music and lyrics. On February 5, 2020, Polozhynskyi announced that he was leaving Tartak and branching out into new musical projects.
Polozhynskyi took part in the organization of 14 musical and interactive concerts – Не будь байдужим (Don’t be indifferent) – in different cities of central Ukraine, which were held in support of the Ukrainian language. In addition, Polozhynskyi is known for his patriotic civic position, which he has repeatedly demonstrated in his lyrics and during public performances.
Since 2014, together with other musicians, he has staged numerous concerts and performances in support of the Armed Forces fighting in the ATO/JFO zone in eastern Ukraine.
On February 15, 2022, Polozhynskyi signed a reserves contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In May 2022, he began his service as gunner/shooter in the 47th Separate Assault Brigade. When he returned home in September, he wrote a song and recorded it with singer Asilia; it reflects his thoughts, feelings, impressions, experiences and events during the first 10 days on the front line.
“I can’t wear a mask of indifference, pretend that no one’s dying, no one’s suffering, that there are no wounded, no people in hospitals with severed limbs. I can’t pretend that I don’t see millions who have no place to live, because they had to flee their homes. I can’t pretend that I’m satisfied with what’s happening in my country …”
Lawyer Oleksandr Burmahin
Oleksandr Burmahin is a media lawyer and human rights activist. Since January 2007, he has been a media trainer certified by the IREX U-Media Legal Protection and Education Program. He presided over the Human Rights Platform NGO until January 6, 2022. As a lawyer, he has defended activists and journalists, in particular, investigative journalists in lawsuits filed by corrupt defendants. On January 6, 2022, he was elected member of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Burmahin joined the Svoboda Volunteer Battalion of the 112th Kyiv Territorial Defense Force.
“They say that the Russian invaders are ready to attack and storm Kyiv. Well, the Armed Forces, the National Guard, special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Kyiv Territorial Defense Force are ready for them! We’re waiting.”
Human rights defender Kostiantyn Reutskyi (Konstantin Reutski)
Kostiantyn Reutskyi is 48-year-old journalist and human rights activist from Luhansk. During the Revolution of Dignity, he took part in the Luhansk Euromaidan. After Russian forces occupied the city in 2014, he left for Ukraine-controlled territory and settled in Kyiv. In March 2014, he worked as a journalist in Crimea. He is co-founder of the Vostok-SOS charity fund and chairman of the board of the Human Rights House in Chernihiv.
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Reutskyi, despite his pacifist convictions, packed his bags and traveled to the front as a volunteer fighter. Today, he serves as a senior soldier in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“By nature, I’m a pacifist. Morally, it’s very difficult for me to aim and shoot at people, even if they’re invaders and have committed terrible crimes. Maybe such thoughts are unprofessional for a soldier, but I say it as it is. Of course, there were situations when I had to shoot at a fairly close range. I didn’t feel any satisfaction or pleasure.
In any case, many of us find killing extremely disagreeable, but we’re forced to do it because we protect people who cannot protect themselves,” said Reutskyi in an interview.