News / Europe

Ukrainian Eurovision Pop Star Becomes Voice of Protest

FILE - Ukrainian singer Ruslana performs in a dress rehearsal in Berlin, Germany.
FILE - Ukrainian singer Ruslana performs in a dress rehearsal in Berlin, Germany.
Reuters
A Ukrainian Eurovision song contest winner is pushing her voice to the limit belting out songs nightly to keep up the morale of protesters camped out a snowy Kyivsquare - the unlikely figurehead of movement to oust President Viktor Yanukovich.
 
Ruslana Lyzhychko won with a song “Wild Dances” in 2004, becoming Ukraine's only Eurovision winner. For political elites that contest may seem a celebration of inanity, but for Ukrainians dreaming of a European future it brought recognition before a huge continental audience.
 
“Last night was a record for me - eight hours on stage,” Lyzhychko told Reuters. “People look to me and they also stay.”
 
The long nights in freezing temperatures have taken their toll. She looked worn to the bone, her face bare of makeup and hair disheveled, sucking throat lozenges as she whisked into the opposition's improvised HQ for another night.
 
Lyzhychko, her petite form belying a powerful deep voice,  has been on stage virtually all night, every night in more than two weeks since protesters occupied the main square, enraged by Yanukovich's decision to scrap an EU trade deal and move the former Soviet republic closer to Moscow.
 
“She is fantastic. She is our voice, our soul, our face and our inspiration and our endurance,” said activist Yegor Sobolev, draped in a yellow-blue Ukrainian flag.
 
Although she has become a hero to protesters camped out inside the barricades, not everyone shares their qualms about the beckoning of powerful northern neighbor Russia.
 
“When Ruslana won the Eurovision, we were proud of her... but now it is shameful,” a reader from the largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass commented in a local newspaper. “I am ashamed of Ruslana.”
 
President Vladimir Putin wants Kiev, heavily indebted over Russian gas, as a central pillar in a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan to rival the EU and the United States.

Barricades
 
But Lyzhychko sings on as protesters prepare for mass weekend demonstrations and Russia and the EU vie for Kiev's favor, all the while cautious of the country's huge debts.
 
At night, Kyiv's central Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti, is filled with young men in hard hats and makeshift protective guards - volunteering as self-appointed security to man the barricades against any police raid.
 
Instantly surrounded by a half-dozen activists at Maidan, Ruslana plots strategy, ignoring the makeup artist and hairdresser who fuss around her. Minutes later, she is transformed and ready for battle: eyes rimmed in sultry, dark eye-shadow and jet black locks swept up into an Amazonian pony tail.
 
One night, Lyzhychko's voice boomed out from the stage like a commander rallying troops as protesters shoved back against black-clad riot police, who tried to clear the streets without using force but eventually withdrew, far outnumbered.
 
Rock music blaring and fists pummeled the air, she belted out the refrain of a popular hit by one of Ukraine's most popular bands, Okean Elzy: “I won't give up without a fight,” calling on people to wake friends to swell their numbers and rasing chants of “Maidan, exists!”
 
“I am Ukrainian. I believe in my people, I believe in justice. I will stand firm,” she yelled, stamping her Ugg-clad feet to keep warm.
 
Lyzhychko is adored among protesters who see her as one of their own in a civil movement wary of politicians after being disappointed over the perceived failure of 2004-2005 Orange Revolution to get rid of official corruption and bring change.

Christmas tree
 
Some said they would vote for her, if she chose politics, but for now it is a mantle Lyzhychko rejects.
 
“You cannot lead Maidan, you can only join it,” Lyzhychko said. “I think of myself as a volunteer ... showing people that we need to be here because there is no other way.”
 
The pop star was also active in those 2004-2005 streets protests that succeeded in overturning a fraudulent election won by Yanukovich but not in reforming the political system that saw him again win the presidency in 2010.
 
“Russia is our past, Europe must be our future,” said Lyzhychko, who is from Lviv, about 60 km from Ukraine's western border with EU member Poland where many see Russian as occupiers who oppressed their country in the Soviet era.
 
Like others, Ruslana answered a Facebook call on November 21 to protest on the square where days later she had been booked to unveil a Christmas tree. That tree has now been torn to shreds by protesters using it to build barricades.
 
“After that night, the Kyivcity administration called to cancel her participation, but anyway there was no opening and the Christmas tree is no more,” Lyzhychko's spokeswoman said.
 
What is left of its towering wire carcass is now festooned with flags and political messages.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More