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Bayraktar: Armed with just a guitar, meet the man helping Ukraine resist Russia

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By Stefan Weichert
Taras Borovok
Taras Borovok   -   Copyright  Credit: Stefan Weichert

Ask anyone outside of Ukraine what the country's hottest musical property is and Kalush Orchestra will likely be the response after the group wowed Europe to win Eurovision.

But within Ukraine, there is an artist even more in tune with Ukraine's current predicament: Taras Borovok.

The 49-year-old has shot to fame after creating a propaganda song that hails the impact of Turkish drones in stymieing Russia's advances.

Called Bayraktar, the same name as the drone, the song mocks Vladimir Putin, the Russian army and even the country's famous cabbage soup, shchi.

'I just knew that I had to help my country'

Even at the turn of the year and nearly eight weeks before Russia's invasion, Borovok was convinced Moscow would attack.

He joined Ukraine's army immediately after Russian forces moved across the border on 24 February.

But Borovok wouldn't be directly involved in the military conflict; instead, he was asked to help win the information war. 

Armed with just his guitar, he sat down in his Kyiv studio to write what has become one of the war's most popular songs.

Credit: AP
What do we know about the Bayraktar TB2 drone?Credit: AP

“My friend in the military came to me and asked whether I could write a song about Bayraktars. He said that they worked well on the battlefield,” Borovok told Euronews.

“It really only took me 15 to 20 minutes to write. It was swift, and I had no idea that it would become so popular so fast.” 

It quickly became a hit and was viewed on YouTube hundreds of thousands of times.

Ukrainian TV often shows pictures of Russian military vehicles that the drones had destroyed and Borovok's music was the perfect accompaniment. 

“I have written songs all my life. As long as I remember,” said Borovok, who also makes videos and memes for the military. "When the invasion started, I just knew that I had to help my country. The best way that I could [was] with music.”

But Bayraktar is not the only song popular among Ukrainians and linked to Russia's invasion.

Even though Kalush Orchestra's Eurovision-winning track Stefania was written before 24 February, its lyrics about the hardship of being a mother are widely interpreted as the struggle by Ukraine to defend itself from Russia.

Andriy Khlyvnyuk, one of Ukraine's biggest rock stars, quit a US tour with his group BoomBox and returned to serve in the country's Territorial Defence Force. He recorded a version of the Ukrainian folk song Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow, which was originally written to honour Sich Riflemen, a Ukrainian unit in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War 1.

Khlyvnyuk's recording, posted on Instagram, quickly went viral. Pink Floyd used it as the vocal track on their new single Hey, Hey, Rise Up!

'I am trying to give positive energy to cheer people up'

Borovok is not shy about calling the song propaganda. He admits his goal is to influence people, keep morale high and reduce Russian influence. 

Given Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, many Ukrainians still speak Russian and watch the news in that language. 

Borovok says the lack of a streamlined Ukrainian effort to counter Russian propaganda means small parts of society believe in the Russian narrative of the war.

“We should have done something a long time ago, but now at least, the war seems to have made people understand that being Ukrainian is very different from being Russian," said Borovok. 

"We are an independent country and we are supposed to be divided from Russia. 

"This is the final struggle for our people to resist Russia. We have been fighting for this so many years, even under the Soviet Union.”

When the war started, Borovok sent his wife and children to Poland, so he didn’t have to worry about their safety. 

He told them he had to be in Ukraine and do what he could to help his country. He hasn't seen them since.

“On the first days of the war, all information platforms collapsed,” said Borovok, who helped set up Facebook pages and make sure that information came back up and running. “In the first days, I also spent a lot of time creating funny memes about the Russian soldiers."

Borovok says he often wakes up at night with ideas for music and writes them down so as not to forget. All his focus is on work from when he wakes up until he goes to bed.

“I am trying to give positive energy to cheer people up and make them believe,” said Borovok, who has a degree in psychology.

He often uses that when writing songs to determine what works best. He says that music has a unique power to reach people because it doesn’t require people to read something actively. He tries to make his songs easy to understand for every person.

“I try to balance between making them funny but not completely like a comedy,” he said Borovok. “To make it work, I need to get people not to panic but believe that we can win.”

Credit: Stefan Weichert
Taras BorovokCredit: Stefan Weichert

Propaganda music used to 'sanitise a grim situation'

Expert Dr Kate Guthrie says music is often an essential tool for keeping morale high during war.

“When they had the air raids in Britain, during World War II, often people would go and gather in communal spaces, like underground stations in London, or like communal tube shelters and be singing,” Dr Guthrie, from the University of Bristol, told Euronews. “I understand it was a massive part of the kind of culture that developed there. And oftentimes, people would be spending, you know, long parts of, like hours and hours of the night down there.”

Some songs were about a better tomorrow, while others used humour to make it easier to live through war. Guthrie, who focuses her research on wartime propaganda music, points to excellent examples of tracks such as We're Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line and Run Adolf Run.

“I think all of these are using comedy to make light of or sanitise a situation that's basically grim. It's a way of society exploring the darkest things in life in a way that's less existentially threatening or overwhelming,” she said.

“I don't think that people did formal statistical surveys, but from the kinds of qualitative accounts, we can see that people talked about their experiences of group singing during the war. People's memories of them suggest that it was incredibly powerful.”