Ukrainian musicians Taras Shevchenko and Kateryna Pavlenko of Go-A were considering starting a new folk electronica project back in February 2022. But on February 24, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the pursuit of many of Ukraine’s leading artists and cultural institutions came to a screeching halt.
Since the start of the war, artists and cultural figures quickly turned their attention to contributing to the war effort while working to preserve and promote Ukraine’s unique artistic and cultural heritage.
The world looks back at the countless ways the war affected artistic and cultural expression in Ukraine, and how advocates worked tirelessly to continue making art against all odds.
Race to save cultural heritage
In early March, as Moscow intensified its bombing of civilian settlements, museums and churches in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, were targeted. Residents of Lviv ran to prevent their city from suffering the same fate. For a city synonymous with music and art, hammering and drilling became the most common sound in town.
Artists at the forefront
Ukraine’s armed forces have made it mandatory for all men to stay in Ukraine to serve in the war. But when the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra was mobilized to go on tour as part of a cultural diplomatic mission, the Defense Ministry gave its male members special permission to leave the country.
Other musicians, like Taras Topolia, lead singer of the band Antitila, immediately joined the Ukrainian army and served on the front lines. At the same time, Topolia continued to defend Ukraine through her music.
Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who might just be Ukraine’s biggest rock star, also volunteered and joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, where he became a lieutenant. Much of his service involved helping troops and civilians living close to the front lines. To provide emotional support to the troops, Vakarchuk performed the song “Chovan”, which means “Boat”, near the Antonivsky bridge in Kherson region, which was destroyed by Russian forces.
As intense fighting in Ukraine destroyed entire villages, Ukraine’s underground rave scene emerged behind Repair Together, a group of volunteers organizing “cleanup raves,” a mix of traditional cleanup efforts with dance parties to relieve stress and connect with others. .
Translating war, protecting literature
The war in Ukraine raised a new wave in the history, culture and writing of Ukraine. Ukrainian literary translators worked overtime as the war created new demand for Ukrainian publications. A US-based writer, Draluk translates poetry and literature from Russian and Ukrainian into English.
Creating normality in wartime
During rehearsals at the Odessa Opera House, it was sometimes easy to forget that Ukraine is a country at war. Inside the elegant, neo-baroque building of the late 19th century, the conflict outside seemed distant. Odessa’s National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet is located in Ukraine’s busiest port city, which was an early target of the Russian military, but remains a central cultural hub.
Finding a home on international stages
When war broke out in Ukraine, the Shchedrik Children’s Choir of Kyiv was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a world tour. Conductor Saul Sachs went on a mission to make sure the world continues to experience the choir’s “magical” sounds. In December 2022, the choir headed to Carnegie Hall to celebrate a Christmas sensation known as “The Song of the Bells”.
Ukrainian ballet dancers displaced by the fighting have found a home on international stages. The Ukrainian Classical Ballet went on a charity tour in Italy and Romania in May, with the company in Bucharest for the performance “Giselle”.
And despite suffering six months of war with Russia, several actors from Ukraine were represented at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, the world’s largest arts festival held annually in Scotland. It was a bittersweet experience for the performers.
Ukrainian hip-hop artists are also speaking out. The genre, which became popular in the country in the late 1990s, mainly originated in the eastern city of Kharkiv, not far from the Russian border. Alyona Savranenko, known by her stage name Alyona Alyona, uses her music to lift the spirits of her people while the war rages on.
This article was originally published on February 21, 2023 and has been updated.