Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images – Members of the Royal Irish Academy of Music
perform the Ukrainian national anthem in Dublin, Ireland. The world of music is united in its support of Ukraine, since the country got invaded by Russia, Feb. 24.
“Normal life as we know it has come to a complete standstill. Some people might not be aware of what exactly is happening, but all civilians are either in bomb shelters or their houses. There are curfews in every region. The last curfew in Kyiv lasted more than 30 hours, meaning that on Feb. 27 people couldn’t go outside unless it was to move into a bomb shelter.
“There are no cafes open, nor events happening. The whole country is at war, people only go outside to help our forces or to get goods when it’s possible. Most men can’t leave Ukraine due to the mobilization. You can’t fly to Ukraine or over Ukraine, you can only cross the border from neighboring countries, for example to join the ranks of the military since Ukraine right now welcomes volunteers from the whole world to help its fight. The borders with Slovakia, Poland and Romania have massive queues with thousands of cars of people fleeing the country.
“Our work as festival promoters has frozen, we’re using all our resources to either provide humanitarian, logistical or military help, to contact all artists, colleagues, agents and other promoters and get them to spread the truth about the situation, share it with their audiences, organize special events and fundraisers, and to urge people to go to demonstrations and talk to their governments.”
–Vlad Yaremchuk, Atlas Weekend
The above message was sent via telegram from Vlad Yaremchuk, festival booker for Atlas Weekend – the biggest festival in Ukraine – which was scheduled to return for its first edition since 2019 on July 6-10 in the capital of Kyiv. The site of Atlas, the venue the festival is named after, has been transformed into a shelter and collection point for necessities like water and food. There is little reason to talk business right now.
The March 28 cover of Pollstar read, “State of the EU: Optimism Turns To Certainty.” A week after the issue went to press, all certainty about Europe’s return is gone. Frankly speaking, business is the least of people’s worries, since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 – the escalation of a conflict that’s been haunting the border between both countries since 2014. International artists that canceled their announced appearances in Ukraine at press time included Green Day, Bring Me The Horizon, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, AJR and Jethro Tull.
The world of live entertainment has responded in unison. Live Nation has stated that it won’t doing business with Russia, effective immediately. A statement provided to Pollstar
reads, “Live Nation joins the world in strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We will not promote shows in Russia, and we will not do business with Russia. We are in the process of reviewing our vendors so we can cease work with any and all Russian-based suppliers.”
OVG (Pollstar’s parent company) ceased all business activity with Russia, the Portuguese music export office has offered help to all Ukrainian musicians in Portugal, ILMC in London launched a call for donations, and Slovakian festival Pohoda hosted a “Concert for Ukraine” in the main square of country capital Bratislava. Yaremchuk delivered a speech, which was broadcast on National TV and streamed online and at the benefit concert.
“Our friends in the Czech Republic will hold a similar event in their country on Thursday,” Yaremchuk told Pollstar. “Our team is helping in every way they can by helping local volunteers, routing humanitarian help from Poland to multiple cities and so much more. Most of my music industry friends are sending me photos from demonstrations they attend that are supported by hundreds of thousands of people.”
Russia’s live industry has also condemned the actions of the country’s political leaders. Ed Ratnikov, the founder of Talent Concert International (TCI), told Pollstar, “Even local Russian artists are shocked by Putin’s actions. We all expected the usual speculating and bluffing from politicians, but it seems we did not notice that our president was mentally ill as he chose absolutely insane actions.”
He confirmed that there was no international touring activity in Russia either, and that future concerts were in jeopardy. “We’re still processing the shock, but TCI is trying to keep up work. We have about 10 international shows and about five shows of local artists confirmed, as well as two festivals in spring, summer, and autumn season. At this point, the international artists we’re engaged with have started consulting with us regarding cancellations or postponements until the situation becomes more clear,” Ratnikov explained. “Right now, it seems like all international touring will be canceled or postponed, we will refund all tickets. All local artists’ shows as well as our Summeet festival at Luzhniki Olympic Park in Moscow are still happening, unless Moscow city authorities decide differently, this is still not 100% clear.”
Ratnikov emphasized that, “Me and my colleagues at TCI do not support Putin’s desire to bring war to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. We’re all so angry that he did this despite the vast majority of the Russian population never supporting it. We’re demanding and thinking about ways to stop the madness immediately!”
Andrei Alekseev, CEO of A Entertainment Inc, said there was no way for Ukrainian artists to perform in Russia and vice versa at the moment because of the bad blood. He said the situation was “horrible,” because Ukrainian artists are very popular in Russia. “Russian people have loved Ukrainian music since the time of the Soviet Union,” he said. A Entertainment is based in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, but operating in several territories across Europe. The countries surrounding Russia and Ukraine may not be directly involved, but there’s little interest in buying concert tickets when your neighbor is under attack, according to Alekseev.
A promoter from Poland wishing to remain anonymous told Pollstar, “There is no effect on our industry – we are in a similar position to all other Central European countries. Poland is a NATO member since 1999 and EU member since 2004. Only on Polish territory there are around 20,000 fully equipped American troops. Big cities, where festivals and concerts will be taking place in the summer or spring are safe, and events are set to happen as planned. The situation looks exactly the same in all countries, which border on Ukraine: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. But what we experience now is war refugees from Ukraine, and we will welcome and take care of a lot of them. It’s our duty and it is already happening. Furthermore, the Polish live music industry will work with one of the charity organizations helping Ukrainians by raising funds during the upcoming concerts and festivals.”
Associations from way beyond the music biz have taken action. FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA banned Russian soccer clubs from all tournaments. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international competitions. Other prominent boycotts from the world of music come from the European Broadcasting Union, which won’t allow Russia to participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
In the United States, New York’s Carnegie Hall removed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and piano soloist Denis Matsuev from its program. Both musicians reportedly had strong ties to Putin. In the UK, the Royal Opera House canceled a summer season from the Bolshoi Ballet and the Helix theater in Dublin, Ireland, canceled a performance of “Swan Lake” by the Royal Moscow Ballet. The Royal Moscow Ballet stated that it is in “no way funded or sponsored by the Russian government.”
Alekseev urged not to forget that the people, who’ve been doing business together very successfully over the past year, Ukraine and Russia especially, haven’t changed. “The people working together in this business as partners, the fans going to see their favorite artist live, they are not the decision makers. Their relationships shouldn’t be broken by this,” he said.
Ratnikov agreed, saying, “A large portion of the new sanctions are affecting normal people. We don’t think this will help much to fight Putin. We’re all hoping that his regime will end soon, we don’t want to live in North Korea. We want to live our creative lives in peace with all the people in the world.”