Not every rock supergroup is happy to take orders from a country’s military commander-in-chief – but not every rock supergroup is like Ukraine’s Antytila.
“Zaluzhny told us it was time to get off the battlefield and back on stage. Our mission now is to share song and to share the story of Ukraine’s fight for freedom and independence with Western audiences,” Antytila’s front-man Taras Topolya exclusively told Kyiv Post backstage at the band’s concert in Sydney, Australia last night.
The last time Kyiv Post spoke with Topolya and the other four members of Antytila, in August 2022, they were on the battlefield: serving as combat medics on the outskirts of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. They scheduled the meeting outside a Russian-destroyed hospital in Saltivka as that was the safest rendezvous point; it was no longer a prime target for Russian artillery gunners.
Then, Topolya and his colleagues couldn’t answer when the band, who have been filling stadiums since 2007, would return to their music. Their focus was totally on providing combat first-aid, triage and medevac to front-line soldiers, as volunteers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).
But Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s army chief, made the decision for the band of musicians turned medics earlier this year. It led them to now be on an international tour of the US, Canada, Europe and Australia flying the Ukrainian flag.
“He basically said ‘you’ve done your duty at the front, but, if you get killed now, we lose the power of your music in our overall fight’. So, when Zaluzhny speaks, it’s best to listen. So, for now, we’re back on the rock-and-roll front,” a jet-lagged but relentlessly optimistic Topolya recounted as he changed into his stage outfit, provided by a Ukrainian clothing maker, Kohai.
“Normal people understand what evil is,” guitarist Dmytro Zholud added. “It’s our role to tell the story of the war against Ukraine and help them see the evil that is behind it.”
In Australia, Antytila is playing gigs in Sydney (at the aptly named Liberty Hall) and Melbourne, as well as doing a round of media appearances and meetings with key Australian stakeholders supported by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations (AFUO) and its State-based member groups.
“Nobody owes us [Ukrainians] anything. So, the first thing we always need to say to our allies, Australians or otherwise, is thank you. They’re under no obligation to support us, but we hope they continue to do so. Yeah, there’s 16,000 kilometers between here and Kyiv, but we’re close in our values,” Topolya said.
The band's recent single ‘Fortress Bakhmut’ is approaching 20 million views on YouTube. They’re using the international tour to also raise funds to provide 10,000 medical kits for Ukrainian forces. At the start of last night’s show, they had raised $350,000 toward their goal of $500,000.
AFUO, the umbrella body of the local and growing Ukrainian diaspora in Australia, said it fully supports Antytila’s goal and called on their fellow Aussies to do the same.
Kateryna Argyrou, AFUO’s Co-Chair, took to the stage before the music started and announced the Future Ukraine Fund, a new tax-deductible fund-raising platform, that her organization has established to, in part, better target practical support for the Ukrainian military.
“Via community members, we get requests directly from front-line units for an array of equipment. Utes [pick-ups] and drones are key items that are needed. Using funds raised [here], the items are procured in Europe and then dispatched to the front. Some units are amazed that this help comes all the way from Australia,” 36-year-old Argyrou said.
Argyrou, who was born in Ukraine and whose grandparents were anti-Soviet prisoners in the Gulag, is one of Sydney’s rising financial sector stars. By day she manages $10 billion worth of real estate investments.
Her work, in support of Ukraine has become an additional full-time job. She has relatives serving with front-line units in Ukraine so she too sees and understands the impact of news of the war.
“It can be difficult to read negative headlines on a daily basis and sometimes you just want to switch it off. But when we speak to the heroes on the front-line, fighting tooth and nail for Ukraine’s freedom, for democracy, for the things Australia stands for, we realize they don’t have the privilege of fatigue… Since they’re going on, we too must go on and stand behind them as they do their jobs,” Argyrou said.
Topolya sounded a similar chord.
“The ‘fatigue’ thing is basically crap. On an individual level, it’s not right to talk about fatigue when we know there are hundreds of military guys living in muddy dug-outs and trenches where the walls are alive with rats,” Topolya said.
“And it’s not fair for Western decision-makers to speak of fatigue or the pace of the offensive. It’s totally unrealistic to expect instant victory when no other military has ever attempted – without real air cover – what Ukrainian soldiers are now doing. It’s pure bravery and should be admired not admonished for its pace,” Topolya said.
Many at Antytila’s performance last night were Ukrainians who had come to Australia as refugees following the start of the full-scale invasion.
Long-time Antytila fan Olana Shymanska, 28, has been in Australia for 18 months after leaving hometown is southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia, where her parents and family remain. She was there with her 19-year-old friend, Yuliia Shulika another recent arrival also from Zaporizhzhia.
“It’s great to be united with the community and feel the spirit and the power of our people. I really love Antytila’s song ‘Tam De My Ye’ [‘There Where We Are’]. I only wish that my relatives and I can listen to it together in a peaceful and victorious Ukraine,” Shymanska said.
Together with the crowd, many adorned in Ukraine’s colors of blue-and-yellow or in traditional embroidered “vyshyvanka” shirts, the ladies rocked out to the Antytila anthem.
“There where we are, there where we are. A new depth is before us… There’s little time – you have to act,” Topolya belted out and the crowd joined in the chorus.
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