‘Saving our children’ Ukrainian pop star Taras Topolya on life on the battlefield

Ukraine: Pop band provide update on their part in the war

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Antytila is used to filling stadiums in Ukraine, across Europe, the US and Canada, but when war erupted early on a Thursday morning, the band had no doubt – “the thing we need to do now is just think of the future of ourselves and our children,” Mr Topolya told Express.co.uk as he sat in a parked van while on duty, as a volunteer, with Ukraine’s territorial defence forces.

Speaking from Kyiv just before making his way to Bucha and Irpin, he said: “Our main objective is to save people, to evacuate them from the battlefield, to help the wounded, and to take them quickly to reanimation.”

He does this with guitarist Dmytro Zholud and keyboardist Serhii Vusyk, while Drummer Dmytro Vodovozov and bassist Mykhailo Chyrko work behind the scenes to arrange supplies for the military.

Amid the horrible sounds of “bombing and shelling”, music has not disappeared from the scene and has, in fact, at times served as a reminder of the power of words and community.

Mr Topolya and his bandmates went viral when they appealed to Ed Sheeran to participate in Birmingham’s Concert for Ukraine, which took place on March 29.

In a video that quickly sped through social media, the lead singer said, “in peacetime, our concerts gather at stadiums”, but now “we are fighting with weapons against the Russian occupiers”.

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They offered to temporarily join the charity concert live from war-torn Kyiv, claiming: “We are not afraid to play under the bombs.”

Ed Sheeran’s response, Mr Topolya confessed, brought the band’s manager, a huge fan, close to tears.

The Grammy winner said in an Instagram story: “I just watched your video this morning, thank you so much for sending it.

“I just wanted to say to all Ukrainians, I love you, I stand with you and I’m so proud to be playing this fundraising event next week.

“I can’t wait to check your music out, guys – and I’m sending you lots of love.”

Their offer to stream into the UK show did not get the green light from the organisers.

They said they understood, “on a personal level”, why the band is “bravely fighting for their country”. For the event, though, “it would not be possible for us to feature them” as that would shift the focus from a “humanitarian” perspective to “the politics” of it.

However, that didn’t bring Antytila down.

Mr Topolya told Express.co.uk: “Ed Sheeran… he’s a good guy, you know, we are all big fans of his music.”

And he still hopes for a “joint performance” in the future.

He said: “We would really like to have it in Ukraine, of course, in our Olympic Stadium, that would be great. And we will do our best to organise it to the highest level.

“I’d like to publicly invite him once more to come here to Ukraine, and would also like to mention James Blunt, who has supported us.”

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The music video for Antytila’s 2018 single Lego features now-president, then-comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Mr Topolya knows well – and proudly so.

He said: “Our president acts like he acts and does what he does now to personally demonstrate this (Ukraine’s) unity.

“He’s going to be the symbol of some new processes in the world.”

The 34-year-old thinks change in the political landscape is needed not only in Eastern Europe but globally, as people “are really eager to see different political processes — different politicians — with human faces, with resolution”.

He argued: “It’s important that words follow principles, and the world really needs honesty.”

Mr Topolya said fans often describe their lyrics as a “forecast of the future”.

Thus, when touching upon what’s next, he did not waver: “Our future album will be positive, it will be celebrating our victory.

“I keep collecting emotions in the course of all the actions taking place, and they will be depicted in our future songs.

“It’s going to be a renaissance of Ukrainian culture. It’s going to provoke smiles.”

The album will also “remember, of course, our victims of the war” – all while pushing people “to do their best and to act further for our country, for our future”.

On February 24, Mr Topolya recalled, he asked his father to drive his wife and three children to the west of Ukraine. Their farewell “was a very painful moment” but now he feels confident and calm.

Knowing they are safe, he can “complete all the actions I need to do here”.

Is he scared? “No, there’s no fear and no panic.”

He replied without hesitation, and added: “If I am meant to die, that will happen; if I am meant to live, that will happen. And there’s no other way for us to do any other things than we do now. Here.”

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