«We’ve lost a million dollars because we gave up Russia,» – musician Taras Topolia

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Right from the vanguard, the frontman of the «Antytila» band Taras Topolya, who serves as a military paramedic and volunteer, spoke in the program «Times of Stories: Warriors of Light.» He narrated about refusing to earn $1 million, how he was wished death, and where Bono got his phone number.

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In Ukrainian only

My story follows the fact that you have to make a choice guided by your own conscience and feelings. Even if the whole world says that you’re wrong. The main thing is not to betray yourself and your beliefs.

In 2004, our school friends gathered and gave their first concert at the graduation. We immediately decided to sing in Ukrainian. Although, note that I was born and grew up in a bilingual city. To be honest, in Kyiv at that time, people mainly communicated in Russian, and Russian songs could be heard everywhere. Then, I decided that music is a tool through which I can convey certain ideas and implement creative ambitions. And it should be done in Ukrainian. Despite the prospects that would open up for «Antytila» if we sang in Russian.

Since the release of our first record in 2008, we have experienced every next step as a path of total struggle against stereotypes, certain norms established in society and habits. For example, for people from the West of Ukraine, Ukrainian music is organic. Although we met different opinions and views, in general, the history of Ukrainian music and the Ukrainian space here is quite organic.

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But if we talk about national popularity, until a certain period it could be obtained only if you conquered Moscow. That’s how it worked, and it’s a fact, it was a given. To make Ukrainian mainstream music is to choose a much more difficult path. Not the niche one, like folk that can be interesting in any corner of the world because you convey an ethnic narrative, a vibe. Namely, mainstream music, pop rock, because its Ukrainian lyrics limit the potential possibilities of becoming popular and reaching some kind of big scene.

But feelings and convictions suggested that I must do exactly this and no other way. Unfortunately, the promotion of Ukrainian music in Ukraine requires extraordinary efforts, which must be applied constantly, and Russian-language music easily achieves extraordinary results.

And so at every step, not to mention the fact that the audience for Ukrainian music was quite limited. 150 million people understand Russian-language music, and this is only in the countries of the post-Soviet space, not the whole world. But Ukrainian is much less.

Lost a million dollars

We were forced to spend the initially minimal and absolutely ridiculous money we earned on video clips and songs. Making the Ukrainian-speaking song cost the same as the Russian-speaking one. From a certain moment, with these same earnings, we were forced to support our families and confirm the status of artists, which is also important.

This continued until 2014, and, in fact, after that. We still reinvest 90 per cent of what we earn into creating modern and high-quality content at the level of audiovisual perception. So that people wanted to listen to this content, to share it not only because it is Ukrainian, but also because they like it, because it’s cool, popular, and high-quality.

In 2014, the war in Donbas began and, despite the fact that we worked in Ukrainian, new horizons began to open up for the band. In 2013 and spring-summer 2014, we were already actively engaged in volunteer activities. And at the same time, our songs were played on Russian radio stations. We were invited to «Nashestvie», Russia’s biggest festival, to the main stage – and it was really recognition. But at that time, we made another choice, clearly following our internal convictions, and closed the Russian market for ourselves. We joked that we would not participate until beer could be purchased there for Ukrainian hryvnias.

Read also: «I could stay at home, but I’m here» – a professor of Computer Sciences who went to the front

In those eight years, we lost about a million dollars we could have earned there. Because even after the annexation of Crimea, the Russians actively tried to draw us in. These were permanent offers, financially interesting. And if we compromised with our conscience, we would probably be much richer. But, again, we made the right choice.

Territorial defense and hate

Even before the start of a large-scale war, «Antytila» decided to join the ranks of the territorial defense. We understood that war was inevitable. My eldest Roma was born in 2014 and is an American citizen, unlike Mark and Maria, who were born after the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. I constantly received notifications from the American government that the war was inevitable, and I needed to evacuate as soon as possible. The State Department gave every opportunity to do this, even if there were no funds for people to leave in time. We felt that war was being prepared, and we were preparing ourselves. Therefore, we decided to join the ranks of the territorial defense and promote it as much as possible, because we understood that without total popular resistance, this war cannot be won, the invasion cannot be stopped.

When the war started, we immediately sent our families to a safe place. We could talk about it separately because it was a real special operation. We took weapons in our hands, went to the location of our battalion and began to serve practically from the first day. Then, we faced another choice: should we continue a creative activity now? And, let’s be honest, I’d somehow justify myself this way: «Why am I not at the vanguard, not at the frontline, not fighting for the state, which is critically important at the moment? Why am I singing somewhere in the rear, in Poland or Europe? I am a man! Well, how can it be otherwise?».

The wives fully supported us, but there was fear and despair in their eyes. Because they understood that the 24th was the moment of parting, and we may never see each other again. Let me remind you that there was smoke from explosions on the outskirts of Kyiv at that time, and everything was going to the point that the city would be surrounded and captured as quickly as possible.

Still, the internal moral guide showed that it was necessary to fight. No matter how difficult it was, we decided to part with music for this period. Because we understood that if we are alive, it will not be for music, and if not, then for what? 

Therefore, according to conscience and at the behest of the heart, we went to do what was close to us. For which we received a huge amount of criticism and incomprehensible hate just because we did not advertise in detail what we are engaged in, what we do. Some people tried to belittle this act of ours. This is such a defensive reaction of many... But we endured this hate and did our own thing. As the paramedics began to serve, on the third night our base was attacked, and we were killed and wounded. Our companies worked in the hottest moments in Irpin and Bucha. And I still continued to give interviews to foreign mass media, tell stories, shout about the Ukrainian war, and convey our truth as counterarguments to Russian propaganda. And for that, the reproach «flew» at me, saying: «why haven’t you died yet, why are you doing PR for yourself?»

The right choice always pays off

The war is not over yet. But in the end, if the influence of conscience always prevails in the act, you get what you are here for. It happened that we wrote the text, recorded a spontaneous video, shot it in a few hours, and it went viral. Ed Sheeran responded to it, a song and a video clip were borned, after that impressing people greatly. This raised the visibility of «Antytila» both in Europe and in the world. I gave a huge number of interviews to American and British publications, world media resources began to write about us, not only in the context of the war, but also in relation to creativity.

Things began to happen that I had never dreamed of. Bono called us and invited us to sing together in the subway. He got the phone number from Ed Sheeran, who had previously asked me for permission to give him the number. Can you imagine what an educated and tolerant person he is? Bono arrived, we performed... Come on! It is hard to imagine that once, in a peaceful life, «Antytila» could sing on the same stage with him. But it happened because we did not abstract ourselves, staying close to each other.

The moral choice of the bright side, of one’s own principles, always turns out to be more effective, if not situationally, then strategically. It brings a much better result than the benefit you get by going to a deal with your own conscience.

A charity event called «Time of Stories: Warriors of Light» took place in Lviv to share the stories of Ukrainians fighting each on their own front. You can speed up the victory of Ukraine by transferring funds for our military:

Marichka Ilyina, translated by Vitalii Holich

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