In Ukraine, the “Cultural Forces”, artist-soldiers on all fronts

In the courtyard of an ordinary house, a meat dish has just finished simmering over a wood fire

In Ukraine, the “Cultural Forces”, artist-soldiers on all fronts

In the courtyard of an ordinary house, a meat dish has just finished simmering over a wood fire. It is time for break. In the N. village, whose location remains secret because it is frequently targeted by the Russian army, the officers and soldiers of the 2nd battalion of the 47th mechanized brigade eat in the bitter cold of winter. A snowstorm is arriving in the region, between Pokrovsk and the Avdiïvka front, in the east of the country.

Suddenly, three artists enter. Two musicians are among the soldiers of the 59th Motorized Infantry Brigade, the unit where singer Mikolai Sierga launched his idea for “Cultural Forces,” an “artistic, psychological and educational” project intended to boost the morale of fighters and to teach them traditional Ukrainian culture. The third is a civilian musician, studying in kyiv, who sometimes comes to join her friends to support the soldiers.

That evening, it is the puppeteer and musician Valeriy Dzekh, a former teacher from Kharkiv enlisted in the army, who leads the show. “Some people take care of bodies, we take care of hearts,” he says. With his comrade Dmytro Romanchuk and student Lubov, he plays the bandura, a traditional 68-stringed instrument, “because it is the instrument that the Cossacks took with them to the battlefield to recount their battles and express their feelings.” Valeriy Dzekh speaks at length about Ukrainian history and language to mostly Russian-speaking soldiers. The highlight of the show is a famous song, which says “I am son and daughter of Ukraine – I lay my life at your feet”.

Large movement

Some soldiers go about their military activities without worrying too much about the artists because, around thirty kilometers away, the fighting is raging. Others welcome this moment of relaxation in a deadly conflict, which everyone fears will last a long time.

Mikolai Sierga, the leader of “Cultural Forces”, has managed to bring together, since June 2022, around a hundred musicians, poets and actors, both military and civilian volunteers. The idea of ​​the singer from Odessa, a former pop star in Moscow before the war, is to carry out “a psychological operation for morale and against stress”, he says in a café in kyiv. It's not just about entertainment. The cultural dimension is essential.

“It’s propaganda, in the good sense of the word,” explains the artist. He himself, who did not speak Ukrainian at the time of the Russian invasion of February 24, 2022, learned it in three months. “We promote Ukrainian culture, identity and language, which are the keys to uniting the nation. This somewhat reduces the gap between combatants and civilians, and it prepares for the post-war period. »