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Music among bombs: How festivals survived in Ukraine

Music Export Ukraine’s Alona Dmukhovska spoke to Beeyhype about how festivals and events have taken place in Ukraine amid curfews, bomb threats and a lack of infrastructure due to Russia’s ongoing invasion.

Was there any kind of ‘festival summer’ in Ukraine this year?
Alona Dmukhovska
: The majority of events we have now are small-scale. Small, because when you have an event for 200 people, you have to have a bomb shelter right next to it for 200 people, so when the alarm siren starts, over the course of a couple of minutes you can evacuate all of them.

We heard you have rave parties during the day now?
The electronic community in Ukraine found a way to continue their activities – the world-known Kyiv techno club Closer even does music festivals – starting early in the morning and finishing in the evening. The reason for that is the curfew in all cities that we have during the nighttime, so no events are allowed then. So yes, you have got it right – rave parties during the daylight. It’s possible and still entertaining. And now you finally have an excuse to wear those fancy sunglasses while dancing to look cool.

Also, a lot of Ukrainian artists are trying to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine and go to play acoustic concerts for our brave people. The frontman of one of the biggest Ukrainian rock bands, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, every couple of months goes to the frontline to make what he can best.

Because all these events are not just for fun?
It’s because of a clear humanitarian need in the first place – every single event happening now in Ukraine and abroad is not for business, but to raise donations to help those in need. Besides, it’s crucially important to keep the economy moving, keep the working places and own teams active. Not to mention such well-forgotten words as ‘mental health’, which does not exist in our reality anymore. It’s rather an important activity to stay sane.

“When you have an event for 200 people, you have to have a bomb shelter right next to it for 200 people”

Coming back to festivals, what about them?
Not that many, but they are still happening. One example is Brudniy Pes Festival, you can read a report by Louder than War. Also, in the heart of Kyiv, a new music initiative appeared at Expo Center of Ukraine – Uyava – that is having open-air concerts and two-day festivals during the weekend.

But the most prominent event was definitely Faine Misto in late July. They had to move from Ternopil, where they were taking place for many years, to Lviv, where the security situation is better, and the city administration provides significant support. The lineup was primarily Ukrainian but still, they have managed to attract more than 15 thousand visitors over three festival days. Besides the music programme, they have had a significant charity component and managed to raise UAH 3.7 million (appr. €100k) for security needs.

Are there any foreign artists coming to Ukraine already?
Luckily for us, international acts are starting to come back to Ukraine: we recently had The Tiger Lillies who dedicated an album to Ukraine and played two sold-out shows in Lviv and Kyiv. UK’s London Elektricity came to play a set in July. Luxembourg-born singer-songwriter Rome played a couple of times here both in Kyiv and Lviv, and continuously supports humanitarian needs at the spot. All of that gives a good sign for the foreign agents, that promoters are in place and the audience is active, so with the proper preparation concerts, in Ukraine are possible. Electronic musician IAMX just announced he will be back in Lviv after many years, in November. All of that brings hope that we’re not alone in the current situation and that true friends of Ukraine are ready to come and support Ukrainians.

What about the audience?
We have the warmest audience you can imagine because people are supper happy to see their favorite artists – as not many people are allowed to go abroad for the concert, because of the military law. And the most flexible promoters, that have learned to do events in the most extreme situations. If any European colleague needs a risk manager, ask a Ukrainian. We know how to find a way out of ANY situation.

“People are trying to live their best life because, unfortunately, every single day may be the last one – so cultural life is blooming”

What has happened to music clubs and venues?
Obviously, economically, the situation is extreme. People would rather donate some extra money for the security needs, rather than spend it on leisure. Therefore, pre-sales of the tickets are extremely low. The horizon of planning is for a couple of days in advance maximum as any time a new missile or drone attack can destroy another energy infrastructure. But we are ready for that as well now.

After the last winter, the best present for the Ukrainian promoter is an electrical generator now. And yes, most of the concerts were played with them. Even if the electricity is switched off because of the numerous Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, the audience will cover the artist anyway, just like at the famous concert of Ukrainian artists Artem Pivovarov. And that’s impressive as the full-scale war came right after Covid restrictions.

Many venues and clubs have not survived the Covid times – like Monteray Live Stage or BINGO, legendary music venues, which were around for 20+ years. And of course, Russian aggressions have not helped to keep the rest going.

But the people are trying to live their best life because, unfortunately, every single day may be the last one – so the cultural life is blooming. People really are paying attention to concerts and social gatherings, therefore many events are happening – mostly open-air but some clubs like Closer or K41 are still active.

Many production companies had to transfer their equipment – stages, sound equipment, lightning – to Europe last year because those are huge investments and it takes a lot of money to pay even for the warehouse and not use it. So many of them are abroad. But the ones that have stayed, are pretty busy at the moment.


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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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A post shared by H2D (@h2d.concerts)

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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