Ukrainian rock star reflects on a year of war in his country

The World

In Ukraine, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk is a household name. He might be the country’s biggest rock star — like the Ukrainian Bruce Springsteen or Bono. 

Vakarchuk said that the Beatles were his first musical inspiration when he was a kid in the ’80s. By 1999, he was recording hit songs with his band, Okean Elzy. 

But, his success didn’t happen overnight, he said: “You know, we never woke up famous overnight, so it was like, little by little.”

Now, after countless hits, a PhD in theoretical physics and a political stint, Vakarchuk has focused his music and his activism on supporting Ukraine and its armed forces amid the war.

On Feb. 24, 2022, the day that Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he woke up early hearing an initial attack on the city of Kyiv. His family had already left the country so he immediately tried to help others get to safety.  

rockstar inside a home

Ukrainian singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk


Daniel Ofman/The World

He later volunteered and joined Ukraine's armed forces, where he became a lieutenant. However, most of his service entails supporting troops and civilians living near the front lines.

“It’s unjust that so many boys and girls now are suffering in the trenches and risking their lives and I will be sitting in a relatively safe place.” 

So, he has tried to spend time with the troops and to “share this kind of risk and give them some emotional rest.”

Vakarchuk performed a song “Chovan,” meaning “Boat,” near the Antonivskyi bridge, in the Kherson region, which was destroyed by Russian forces.

“The song is about Ukraine. And it literally describes the country on both sides of the Dnipro river, left bank and right bank. This is a very symbolic song and I wanted to sing it there.”

“The bridge now is destroyed but the spiritual bridge is impossible to destroy.”

One of his favorite songs is a take on the famous song by Joe Cocker, “You Are So Beautiful,” but spelled “UA So Beautiful” in homage to Ukraine. 

“For me, it’s the most-beautiful country in the world, even destroyed by the Russians, torn by the war, it’s still No. 1 for me.”

As the war continues, he went on, “I'm trying to live in the moment and I'm trying to act the way that makes victory closer.” 

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