On Feb. 24, Taras Topolia, in Kyiv, Ukraine, woke up to the sound of explosions.
An hour later, his family was in the car. His father dropped off his wife and two kids to western Ukraine, who later fled to the US.
“[I] personally kissed my wife, my kids and went back to our Territorial Defense Forces and started to serve.”
Topolia, whose battalion was serving in Kyiv, didn’t see his family for six months. A friend was killed, while others were wounded by Russian fire.
“So, it was like a nightmare. But we understood that it is war. In the war, people die.”
Topolia is the founder and lead singer of a popular Ukrainian band called Antytila. Although he and some of his bandmates continue to volunteer with Ukraine’s armed forces, they’re still advocating for their country through their music.
Topolia said that he has been in love with music since he was a kid. Early on, his mom took him to a music school where he learned to play the violin.
By the time he was 12, he was dreaming of playing rock music in a band. Eventually, that happened — Topolia founded Antytila in 2007 — and he and the band went on the road.
They performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg — because before the Revolution of Dignity started in Ukraine in 2014, he said, to achieve success in the country, you had to be validated in Russia.
Still, they continued to make their music, including songs like “In The Books.”
“It's about kids that will never see and hug their daddies because they were killed in the war,” Topolia said, adding, “And this song is very heartbreaking and painful for me to sing on the concept. So, we sing it not so often.”
The band went on to collaborate with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, before he was Ukraine’s president, on a song called “Lego” for the movie, “Me. You. He. She.”
They also produced a music video with Zelenskiy.
Later, they worked with English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran for a charity remix of his song, “2step.”
Topolia said that experiences like these keep him going despite the fact that the war “goes through my heart and through my brain. And of course, it hurts everything. Everything hurts me.”
Even so, he is trying to persevere and forge an uplifting message through his music: “I want to create something full of light, something full of happiness, because I believe that Ukraine will get this victory and we will need a new kind of songs not to cry, but to celebrate,” he said.