As Americans celebrate Memorial Day this weekend in the United States, Russia’s war on Ukraine continues after lasting more than three months.
The lead singer of a popular Ukrainian band recently returned to Ukraine after fleeing shortly after her country was invaded to honor her band’s US tour dates and tell Americans about the war.
Just days after Russia invaded Ukraine, KAZKA soloist Sasha Zaritska fled to the United States on a mission to raise awareness and spread the truth about the Russian-Ukrainian war with the KAZKA’s #IAMUKRAINE campaign.
“Of course it was scary, but it was scary to be there, to be in our house,” Zaritska told me on the phone last month about her decision to leave. “But when we were leaving and after that it was [good] because our house is really close to this Gostomel airport which was bombed… and it was really noisy because of a bombing every day, and especially at night.
“And then we can’t sleep, and it was very scary. And… I slept until the thud of the shelling and I would just wake up and run down the hall or into a bathroom. It was really scary. Because also, we have maybe eight people, all my friends and family were there.
“And then, maybe on the fifth day of the war, we decided to leave because it was [very] dangerous there. And the Russian occupiers [went] to our city. We decided to leave before it was too much [late].
“We had four people in our car. And a car that we left near our house. And this car is now very badly damaged. And we’ve got three dogs there, we’ve got a lot of stuff, and we’re going west.
“We have some problems with the road, but everything will be fine. Perhaps we will have twenty hours or twenty-four hours on the road. And we came to the west of Ukraine.
“Some areas were bombed, and some roads were really damaged, so you had to go down a [side] road. This road took a long time.
“So we go to western Ukraine, and after that I decide to go to America to do performances and spread the word, to talk about the war, to people, to Americans. Because the Americans can make the war end sooner. I know Americans can make it happen. They can ask the government to let them know they care about Ukraine.
KAZKA plays u-pop music with electro-folk elements and sings in Ukrainian. Their song “Plakala” hit #1 on many charts across Europe, reached #3 on the SHAZAM World Music Chart and is still breaking views records, making it the most popular Ukrainian language song. most successful in modern history. Now it has over a billion views collectively across multiple platforms.
KAZKA’s tour across the USA was scheduled 6 months in advance. After the war started, Sasha and her comrades came to a tough decision, she would go perform on their behalf and spread the word about what was going on, and they would stay and fight.
Reflecting on the war and leaving her band behind was devastating for Zaritska while in the United States.
“You wake up every day and live with this news,” Sasha said. “I looked at my phone, maybe every morning for 2 hours, and I was checking all the news. And after that, I just cry after that, trying to live my life.
“So it is very difficult to understand all this, what is happening [in Ukraine]. Our country was a free country and we all lived in peace. And everything was good. But in one day everything changed because of one country and (Vladimir) Putin decided to destroy our lives. Yeah. So it’s terrible that in the 21st century, there are things like that. So for me, I can’t imagine. My brain can’t understand it.
An American performance for Zaritska during the war in Ukraine took place at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas on March 19.
“I didn’t expect me to perform because I was actually thinking that I had to say a speech and maybe sing a song because at that point I was too depressed and I didn’t I just couldn’t sing because I couldn’t. So it was really hard,” Sasha said of her mindset before SXSW.
“But when I saw these people, they came to our show, when I saw this guy, Charlie Sexton, who was [incredible], and when I see these musicians who came and just wanted to support us, and they learned all our songs, these American musicians, and they just came to help us. And we had a great time together on stage. So I decided to perform more songs than I wanted. Yeah, it was very, very nice, actually.
Zaritska’s performance and insight into the war at SXSW received notable attention from local and national US media. The appearance lived up to its purpose, but there was a sense of fear that Sasha couldn’t escape as she had fought the war herself.
“I don’t feel safe anywhere right now, actually,” Zaritska said midway through the US tour. “I think it’s because I don’t feel safe and I think I won’t feel safe anywhere because I’ve seen and heard real war zones and I’ve seen bombs and I ‘ve seen planes and I’ve seen it all. So for the rest of my life, I’ll think about it and I’ll know there’s no place I can be safe.
Sasha and KAZKA now perform at charity concerts in Europe to bring more attention to the war in Ukraine and to raise money to help children, refugees and the Ukrainian army.