Ukrainian rock star Slava Vakarchuk uses patriotic songs to 'pump up morale' of soldiers

His band's songs have rebounded in music charts since Russia attacked Ukraine

Slava Vakarchuk of the band Okean Elzy performs in Hollywood in 2017. Getty
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A Ukrainian rock star is touring his homeland trying to raise the morale of soldiers and civilians by belting out lyrics from songs inspired by love and war.

Sviatoslav “Slava” Vakarchuk, lead vocalist for Okean Elzy, the most successful rock band in Ukraine, told The National that Ukrainians have the tenacity to win the war against President Vladimir Putin’s forces.

But he said that if the UK and western nations stop short in punishing Mr Putin, it could leave the door open to a wider conflict in Europe.

The musician, 46, this week visited the eastern city of Kharviv, which has come under heavy fire from the Russian army. In a show of defiance, he was filmed standing in the city’s central square declaring: “Russia will pay for this!”

Vakarchuk, a social activist and former MP, said his aim is to “pump up the mood and raise the tempo” of his fellow countrymen and women facing off against Russian invaders.

While he once entertained packed stadiums alongside his fellow bandmates, he now belts out lyrics to wounded soldiers and weary medical staff.

His patriotic songs have been given a boost in the music charts in recent days as Ukrainians around the world turn to his lyrics for inspiration while their homeland is under attack.

Lyrics from the band’s most popular songs are intertwined with references to war and Ukrainian pride.

“There, left and right, gardens are blossoming; There, left and right, there are foreign footsteps; Exhausted by wars, but not broken by anyone; May my land blossom,” the lyrics of one hit song say.

He said the soldiers always react positively to his performances, responding “slava Ukraini” — “glory to Ukraine”.

“When you are in this state where you feel desperate and anxious, it is very inspiring that somebody who you know, a well-known person, comes to you without any fear, joins you in the city and gives videos,” the band leader told The National.

“So, I think it is a good moral and spiritual support.”

“The spirit of people is very high, it’s very competent,” he added. “People don’t want war but they are ready to fight until the end and we will. Their spirits are so high so I don’t have any doubt that we will win, sooner or later.”

Vakarchuk said he “won’t hesitate a second” to take up arms, but for now, he is using his voice to help his country.

He appealed to the outside world to punish Russia for its invasion of the former Soviet nation, warning of the possibility of a wider European conflict if Mr Putin feels emboldened.

The only way to stop Mr Putin in his tracks, he argued, would be to make life so difficult for Russians that they feel compelled to protest and rise up against their leader’s war.

He backed a call put out by the British Liberal Democrats for the government to seize properties owned by Mr Putin’s associates and for them to be used to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees.

Insisting he is not a socialist and that he believes in free markets, he said a different approach was needed in a “war situation”.

“I don’t think Winston Churchill was worried about market economy in Europe during Blitzkrieg,” he said.

“I know that in the UK and the western world private property is sacrosanct and it’s a very important rule but I think [the governments should enact] some measures to take these things away from [oligarchs].

“Russian oligarchs are a key to Putin. They are influential, they need to come to him and to yell and to persuade and to stop him and hold his hands.”

Vakarchuk also called on Britain and its allies to send more weapons to Ukraine, particularly “modern, serious, high-tech weapons, anti-missile weapons and aeroplanes”.

His 28-year-old stepdaughter is fighting with Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Unit, while his wife and nine-month-old son have retreated to a safe area of the country.

And as he travels around his country, Vakarchuk hopes the harrowing scenes he witnesses will one day be nothing more than history taught to younger generations.

“I hope when [my son] grows up, he will remember zero from what’s going on now so he will read it in history books or watch it in the movies.”

Updated: March 04, 2022, 7:30 AM