Russian Artists Denounce Invasion of Ukraine, Nearly 18,000 Sign Open Letter

As the invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate, a number of Russian artists, as well as Belarusian and Ukrainian ones, are speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin and nearly 18,000 have signed an open letter with the clear message: “No to war!”

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“We, artists, curators, architects, critics, art critics, art managers—representatives of the culture and art of the Russian Federation—express our absolute solidarity with the people of Ukraine and say resolutely “NO TO WAR!” reads the letter. “No to war” has become a rallying cry of the protests taking place within Russia and worldwide, and is also being used on Russian-language social media.

The letter continues: “We act now not only as cultural figures but as ordinary people, citizens of our country, our Motherland. Among us are children and grandchildren of those who fought in the Great Patriotic War, witnesses and participants in that war. The past XXth century has brought too much grief and suffering to humanity. We want to believe that the 21st century will be a century of hope, of openness and dialogue, a century of human-to-human conversation, a century of love, compassion, and mercy. We call on all those on whom it depends, all parties to the conflict, to stop the hostilities, and to come to the negotiating table.”

In an Instagram video, Russian hip-hop artist Oxxxymiron, real name Miron Fyodorov, said he was canceling six sold-out shows scheduled in Moscow and St. Petersburg, following the invasion. “It’s not Ukraine that invaded Russian territory,” said Oxxxymiron on Instagram. “It’s Russia bombing a sovereign state.”

Fyodorov has been critical of Putin in the past and even called out the Russian government for labeling individuals they deem political opponents as “foreign agents.” He has supported Russian activists and protesters and even testified in court in 2019 on behalf of 21-year-old Russian student Yegor Zhukov, who was on trial for posting YouTube videos discussing protests and the different approaches to power. 

“The state’s message is clear: ‘Go back to your burrow and don’t take part in common action,’” said Fyodorov in his testimony. “If we see more than two people together in the street, we’ll jail you for protesting. If you work together on social issues, we’ll assign you the status of a foreign agent.’ Where can trust come from in a country like this—and where can love grow?” He added, “I’m speaking not of romantic love but of the love of humanity.”

In a recent interview, following the invasion of Ukraine, Fyodorov elaborated on the cancellations, the war, and how he believes many people within Russia feel about Putin’s actions. “I know that most people in Russia are against this war, and I am confident that the more people would talk about their real attitude to it, the faster we can stop this horror,” said Fyodorov. “I cannot entertain you when Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine—when residents of Kyiv are forced to hide in basements and in the metro, while people are dying.”

Several other Russian musicians have voiced their opposition against Putin and the attack on Ukraine, including Noize MC, Kasta, Vladi, Khamil, Zmey, and Shym.

“I also call upon my Russian colleagues who have their own audience,” said Ukrainian DJ and singer-songwriter Ivan Dorn, who is also popular in Russia, in an Instagram video. “Please tell them that we don’t need anyone,” said Dorn in a message to his fans in Russia. “Convey the message that Ukraine is an independent, sovereign state. Please, let’s stop this disaster together. Do not be silent. My dearly beloved Ukraine, I’m with you.”

Pussy Riot, the female punk activists, who were previously imprisoned in 2012 for speaking out against the corruption and injustice in Russia, quickly opposed the invasion of Ukraine. “Sanctions against Kremlin were not solid enough when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014,” said the group on Twitter. “So he jailed Navalny [Russian opposition lead Alexei Navalny], turned lives of Pussy Riot and other Russian activists into hell, forced many of us to leave our home behind and run, and now he started a war in Europe. When is enough?”

In February, Masha Alekhina of Pussy Riot was arrested in Moscow for the second time in two months and sentenced to 15 days in prison for her social media posts. At present, the Pussy Riot Instagram page does not show posts beyond Feb. 21.

Pussy Riot founder Nadya Tolokonnikova recently revealed NFTs to help provide support and aid to those in Ukraine with all proceeds benefitting the Return Alive Foundation and NGO Proliska. The crypto fundraiser raised nearly $3 million for Ukraine in less than 24 hours.

“DAO” stands for “decentralized autonomous organizations,” said Tolokonnikova on Twitter of the group’s NFT project. She added, “Activism is the only reason I joined Web3,” added Tolokonnikova of entering the blockchain world with the group’s NFTs. “Now, when I’m so deeply ashamed of my government, I simply have to try to help Ukrainians.”

Belarusia post-punk band Molchat Doma took to Instagram, sharing their disdain of the war and offered to give proceeds from their upcoming spring shows to support the people of Ukraine. The band also listed several organizations where people could donate and offer some aid to Ukraine.

“It’s absolutely impossible to be silent now because nothing can justify a war,” said the band in their post. “What is happening in Ukraine now disaster that affects not only the Ukrainians but also millions of people from Russia and Belarus. After all, we were all dragged into this disgrace against our will.
The band condemns military actions on the territory of Ukraine and joins the global anti-war protest.

Expanding on the music and art world within Russia, artists in theater, classical music, ballet, and beyond are also denouncing the war, resigned from their jobs, or have also canceled forthcoming performances in Russia in protest against the invasion of Ukraine. A number of prominent Russian musicians and cultural figures have also called on Putin to end the attack on Ukraine and signed the petition, including violinist Vladimir Spivakov, the artistic director of St Petersburg’s Alexandrinsky Theatre, Valery Folkin, and Vladimir Urin, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

Alexei Ratmansky, former choreographer at the Bolshoi Ballet and currently the artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, is of Ukrainian and Russian heritage, grew up in Kyiv, and still has family in the Ukrainian capital. Ratmansky left Moscow in the midst of producing a new ballet for the Bolshoi and said he doesn’t plan to ever return. “I doubt I would go,” he said, “if Putin is still president.”

The Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra recently cancelled their upcoming June show at Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. The youth orchestra is affiliated with the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, which is led by Valery Gergiev, who reportedly has ties to Putin and was recently fired from the Munich Philharmonic for refusing to denounce the war in Ukraine. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought unthinkable devastation and human suffering,” said conductor Semyon Bychkov in a statement on his website. “There can be no winners whatever the outcome of this unjust and artificially created war.”

Bychkov added that his decision to cancel the upcoming shows was not directed toward the orchestra or the public. “The emotional suffering of ordinary Russian people at this time, the feeling of shame and economic losses they experience are real,” said Bychkov, who also serves as the chief conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic. “So is a sense of helplessness in face of repression inflicted by the regime. Those individuals who dare to oppose this war put their own life in danger. They need us who are free to take a stand and say: ‘The guns must fall silent so that we can celebrate life over death’.”

He added, “Silence in the face of evil becomes its accomplice and ends up becoming its equal.”

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