Ukrainian promoters: “Right now, it’s a matter of survival”
In what has been described as the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, promoters and agents in Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes or seek shelter underground. And as local artists seek to halt the spread of misinformation online, any thoughts of future business have been replaced by the basic need to survive.
Speaking to IQ today (28 February), on the fifth day of conflict, executives spoke of their current circumstances, early efforts by those in the live music industry, and future relations between Russia and Ukraine.
Sergii Maletskyi, general manager and talent buyer at Kyiv-based promoter H2D, fled the capital city the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion to head west. He joined the migration which, according to the United Nations (UN), has seen more than half a million people flee their homes to escape the war.
“A lot of people were travelling from east to west so there was bad traffic,” he tells IQ. “It took 14 hours to travel 350 kilometres (217 miles).” But while Maletskyi says the region is “pretty stable” in comparison to others, the threat of danger is still very real.
“Yesterday, we had to hide in the basement three times because an air attack was expected,” he says. “It didn’t happen, luckily, but this is the new reality for Ukraine.”
Since the invasion began on Thursday 24 February, the UN has recorded 102 civilian deaths, including seven children – and more than 300 injured. However, UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said: “The real figures are, I fear, considerably higher”.
“”We are not focused on the business at this moment – we’re focused on saving lives”
Maletskyi says that the majority of staff at H2D also sought refuge in the east, though one employee is still in Kyiv, barricading in a tube station. “We’re in communication with employees and we’ve paid everyone’s salary for February,” he says. “We’re trying to support them as much as we can.”
Dartsya Tarkovska, co-founder of Music Export Ukraine, also fled the capital – the centre of the conflict – to the western city of Lviv.
“I was born and raised in Kyiv – that’s where my whole life is,” she tells IQ. “We were worried that a war was about to begin so we moved to Lviv a few days before the conflict began. So we were lucky we were able to move safely.”
Of the ten people working for Music Export Ukraine, four of them remain in Kyiv. “They spend most of their time in shelters. It’s a matter of keeping alive and safe,” she says.
Russian president Vladimir Putin’s justifications for the war in Ukraine have been widely dismissed as false by western nations, but with social media platforms and free press now all but outlawed in Russia, the conflict is as much about propaganda as it is boots on the ground. And both Maletskyi and Tarkovska have praised Ukrainian artists for the role they have played on both fronts.
Battling the spread of misinformation, popular Ukrainian acts are attempting to change their cover art on streaming platforms to educate Russian citizens and other countries on the situation in Ukraine.
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And it’s not just online efforts that musicians and creative professionals are signing up to. A number of Ukrainian artists, including Andriy Khlyvnyuk from the popular band Boombox, have volunteers for the territorial defence to protect regions against Russian troops.
Meanwhile, this weekend saw hundreds of thousands of protestors take to streets of London, Berlin, Madrid, South Korea and other countries. And according to Maletskyi, colleagues from the international live music business have also been pitching in and doing “everything they can to help”.
However, Maletskyi warns that stakeholders in the domestic live music business will need to remain patient while Ukrainians prioritise their safety.
“I’ve said to all management not to make cancellations public at this stage because it will cause panic and we don’t need it at the moment,” he said. “I’ve asked them to give us a week or two to focus on our safety. After that, we will be ready to manage cancellations, postponements and everything else. Some of them agreed, some of them didn’t.
“We’re doing our best to communicate with all of our partners and everyone is being really understanding that the situation is like nothing we’ve experienced before, so we’re thankful to them.
“We are not focused on the business at this moment – we’re focused on saving lives. All problems with postponements and cancellations will be solved later.”
“The majority of connections with Russia’s industry will be over”
As for future relations with Russia, Maletskyi says he thinks the “bridges have been burned”.
“The percentage of our Russian shows, annually, was about 10-or-15% and all those artists opposed the current government of Russia. I’m not sure about the future shows… I’m not sure I’ll be working with Russian promoters.”
Tarkovska echoes his sentiment, adding: “The majority of connections with Russia’s industry will be over. It started to happen after 2014, when the initial conflict began but there will be more consequences now.”
However, there are some ties to Russia that have proved hard to sever, says Tarkovska. “For the majority of streaming services and distributors, the communication has been happening via Moscow. We have been trying to change that for quite a while.
“We’re saying, if these organisations are not ready to create independent offices in Ukraine, we’re fine going through Poland but we don’t want to go through the Russian offices of these companies.”
For now, however, the Ukrainian live music is focused on more pressing issues: “Right now, it’s a matter of survival and no one cares about the music industry,” says Tarkovska.
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