Rostyslav Bome remembers the years when Ukrainians seemed to have lost their identity, a collective sense of self that was nearly stolen from them by the Russians over a long period of time. But Bome believes that Ukraine has started to claw back its cultural self-awareness over the past nine years, thanks mostly to a generation inspired by protests and, perhaps even, his lyrics.
“There was little Ukrainian in our culture back then. Everything in the media was in Russian,” said the musician also known as Artisto. “The Maidan [uprising] contributed to the rise of Ukrainian culture. From then on, a whole generation grew up on the leading ideas that were laid down on the Maidan.”
Of course, Moscow’s efforts to squash Ukrainian culture go back more than a century. Stalin’s orchestrated starvation of Ukraine in 1932-33, the Holodomor, achieved the desired effect of assimilating populations in the republic’s East and South by necessitating their dependence on Russia and its food. The Soviets soon were able to establish control over the consumption of Ukrainian culture as well, by intentionally destroying the language and instituting the mass repression, imprisonment and execution of the cultural elite.
By killing millions of people in Ukraine, many have argued, Stalin nearly vanquished the identity of a nation.
In more recent years, even as Vladimir Putin continues to prop up his agents throughout Ukrainian politics and step up his pro-Russian propaganda, Artisto posits that a significant revival of consciousness took place in what has been described as a “revolution of dignity” in 2014: the Euromaidan, or Maidan protests. He believes that Ukrainians have come to re-discover their cultural identity, a force that has driven them to build their own, strong state.
For some, Artisto’s spoken-word verses in “Revolution Ukraine,” which reverberated through that Kyiv square almost a decade ago, have become an anthem for Ukrainian soul-searching and the nation’s fight for sovereignty. In a recent interview with Kyiv Post, the songwriter insisted that this was no coincidence.
“On the first day when the students came to the Maidan, I recorded a video calling for an uprising,” Artisto said. “On the second day, I came from Germany to Ukraine and sang a song. I wanted to morally program the citizens of Ukraine to strive to change something.”
How did you come up with the idea to turn your feelings about Ukraine into a song?
I lived and studied in Germany for 12 years. Sometimes I came to Ukraine, but only for a short time. However, at the beginning of 2012, I stayed in Ukraine for longer. After a month of my stay, I started analyzing the environment. And I didn't like what I saw.
Most of all, I was struck by the way pensioners live. I compared it to the living conditions of older people in Germany. In my opinion, Ukraine has a misguided attitude towards elderly people who have served the country in their jobs all their lives, and now they cannot live normally.
It was from these impulses that I came up with the idea to start a project designed to change Ukraine. However, in the beginning I didn't find many like-minded people. I talked with a lot of folks on the street about this topic. And I heard from everyone that nothing can be changed. But I knew that wasn't fair, so I started writing revolutionary poems. Already in 2012, I wrote the first version of the song.
By the way, your readers might want to know that the current Chief Editor of Kyiv Post, Bohdan Nahaylo, helped me with part of the lyrics. He was very helpful and supportive.
What was the main goal of the project? Did you manage to implement it?
The goal of the project was to build a bridge from Ukraine now to the Ukraine of our dreams. I believe that ideas rule the world and people. So I wanted to promote the idea of changing Ukraine.
But there was a problem in the minds of people, or rather in the absence thereof. There was little Ukrainian in our culture, in particular, everything in the media was filled with Russian…. The Maidan protests contributed to the rise of Ukrainian culture. And from then onward, a whole generation grew up on the leading ideas that were laid down on the Maidan.
On the first day when the students came to the Maidan, I recorded a video calling for an uprising. On the second day, I came from Germany to Ukraine and sang a song. I wanted to morally program the citizens of Ukraine to strive to change something.
In my opinion, my project contributed to this, because in the song I put out a thesis that no one spoke about at the time. Within a few days, the song gained popularity. Subsequently, in the comments under my song on YouTube, many people wrote that this song gives them strength to go to the Maidan…
And most importantly, many people understood that everyone can start changing the country. Since the revolution of dignity, people have taken control of the country into their own hands. Self-belief and pride in their identity emerged. Many Ukrainians began to return to their roots and switch to the Ukrainian language.
In comparison with Germany, what advantages does Ukraine have for you personally? And what has changed since the song was written?
A big plus I want to highlight is that the Ukrainian language was born. That is, it began to be popularized in culture. Culture is the foundation of everything. Before my eyes, Ukrainian cinema was born, more books in the Ukrainian language began to be published, as well as the Ukrainian music that climbed to significant heights.
In addition, I would like to note the digitalization of the country, and the reduction of bureaucracy. Separately, I want to note the internet that became available in every cafe. Also, the Ukrainian banking system has operated at a high level.
I am also happy to see how Ukrainian small businesses are developing. In other words, ordinary people promote their own brands very efficiently and with great enthusiasm. In fact, there is no such thing in Germany. It is the lack of enthusiasm in general. You can compare Germany to elderly people who have already experienced everything, so they do not have such interests. Ukraine is gradually growing its legs, so to speak, so it has the enthusiasm of a small child.
Even though from my point of view everything generally works like clockwork in Germany, on the other hand, the German system has been negatively affected by recent events. At first, there were lots of refugees from Syria, for whom the system had to be adapted. Then there was Covid-19, after which almost nothing worked as it should. Meanwhile in Ukraine, there was no such lockdown. And now the German system is being overloaded by Ukrainian refugees who need to be provided with places to live and they needed to set up appropriate bureaucratic procedures.
What do you think still needs to be changed?
The lyrics of my song represent a specific program, that is, a list of things that need to be changed. For example, I mentioned pensioners. Now, I do not know exactly how much money for pensioners has actually been raised. But I know for sure that they still do not have enough for a good life…
I also mentioned free access to resources regardless of personal connections. I want to note that connections are actually needed everywhere. But over the years, the situation in Ukraine has improved, and now people have more opportunities to develop independently, if they really want to work on it.
Separately I am very concerned about the state of our medicine, and specifically our hospitals. During the coronavirus pandemic, I was in a Lviv hospital. Compared to Germany, it was in a very terrible state…
How can you compare the mood in Ukrainian society then and now?
We are much more interested in our country than before. We are united and feel our identity. People are ready to physically defend their country, people are fighting on the information front, and Ukraine has become a country of volunteers. Back then, we were more united with Russia, because we were programed for this. After Euromaidan, we were separated from the Russians.
There was a revolution of consciousness. And Ukraine is now on the verge of moving up in the world. Our culture, spirit, and self-belief are growing. That is why I am currently in Ukraine, because I feel this crazy energy and its potential.
What are you currently doing and what projects are you planning?
Even before Maidan, I created the United World Organization in Germany. Now it helps the Ukrainian army and Ukrainians in Germany. Together with the charity foundation Caritas, we are launching events for children and people who need moral assistance.
I also have a secret project, so to speak, an underground passage to the Kremlin in the form of a Trojan horse. That is, I plan to use this project to get inside Russia and work against the enemy from there…
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