Serving Ukraine with Arms, and with Music
The popular Ukrainian musical group Antytila took the stage of the bucolic Uzhhorod Amphitheater on June 16, one of the longest days of the year. Ukraine’s westernmost city, Uzhhorod has emerged as a haven for the arts during the past months of war (for more examples of the city’s role, see previous posts in this series: June 10, September 9, September 30, and January 27). The group repeated this concert in Chernivtsi a few days later.
Antytila’s return to music made a political as well as a cultural statement. Band members Taras Topolya (vocals), Serhiy Wusyk (keyboards), Dmytro Scholud (guitar), and Dmytro Vodowsow (drums) were marking an end of military service that began almost a decade ago, just prior to the initial Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Their time fighting at the front has captured attention well beyond their very popular music and the experience has been captured in their songs, such as in this year’s release, “Fortress Bakhmut.”
Antytila’s blend of patriotic service and musical creativity has brought attention before. In 2018, Volodymyr Zelenskyy (before he became president of Ukraine) appeared in one of their music videos. When organizers of the March 2022 Concert for Ukraine in Birmingham, England, said they could not hook the band into the festival via video from the front, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran took its message to the world via TikTok. Last May, singer Topolya joined Bono and The Edge in a brief air raid shelter concert in Kyiv.
The band’s ethereal sound, combined with haunting philosophical lyrics, stands in contrast to Ukraine’s powerful hard rock scene. Like Sheeran, the group seeks a gentle blend of pop, folk, and soft rock. Their approach provides an ideal point of connection to the larger music world beyond Ukraine. The musicians represent a dynamic stream within the Ukrainian popular music scene that touches on their culture’s more tender dimensions. As its website brags, “At Antytila’s gigs, people confess their love, invite their first dates, … kiss, dance, cry and feel joy there, everyone: children, youth and the elderly.”
Antytila’s band members came together in 2004, with the first performance of Topolya’s “Antibody” in Kyiv clubs. They immediately began to release albums and, after a TV project called “Chance” in 2008, perfected their sound. As they attracted greater attention at home and abroad, they began appearing in stadium concerts and on MTV. Initially, the band enjoyed considerable success in Russia as well. In 2011, Vusyk wrote the soundtrack for the Ukrainian-Nigerian film Light as a Feather, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Along the way, the band released seven well-received albums.
Band members were in Kyiv on February 24, 2022, when they awoke to the sound of explosions. After scrambling to get their families to safety, the musicians returned to the military (having volunteered for service in 2014) and fought on the front lines until recently. They now are turning to their music to spread Ukraine’s story. This autumn they embark on a 12-city North American tour to raise money for their country’s war efforts, with stops in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.
The band’s performance in Uzhhorod was for their fellow Ukrainians. Their choice of a serene venue points to the possibilities of a more peaceful time. Located in a small dell near the city’s airport and surrounded by some of the city’s larger post-independence private homes, Uzhhorod’s sleek amphitheater has become a favored summer music venue over the past two decades. Prior to the current war, the open-air theater hosted a full schedule of performances by the Transcarpathian Regional Philharmonic and a range of pop-music groups from around Ukraine and abroad.
The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.
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About the Author
Blair A. Ruble
Former Wilson Center Vice President for Programs (2014-2017); Director of the Comparative Urban Studies Program/Urban Sustainability Laboratory (1992-2017); Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (1989-2012) and Director of the Program on Global Sustainability and Resilience (2012-2014)
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more