The human tragedy of war can neither be adequately described in words, at least not by a music business journalist, nor can it be understood by anyone not living through it. We reached out to Vlad Yaremchuk, booker for Ukraine’s biggest festival, Atlas Weekend, to get his first-hand account of how the live scene is doing in the country.
Pollstar: What’s life like right now in Ukraine for you as a live pro, as well as artists relying on performing to survive?
Vlas Yaremchuk: No one is thinking about making money at the moment. As long as you can find a way to sustain yourself somehow and make your ends meet while using your skills or talent to help the country – you are happy. Any ambition is set aside for now, it’s about being as useful as you can be. Artists are trying to play shows and every show serves as a fundraising effort for an important cause.
In my case, most of my work these days is with Music Saves UA. We collaborate with festivals, music organizations, venues and conferences to raise money which we use to provide humanitarian help in Ukraine. Luckily, there are grant and funding opportunities available for such activity, so we have salaries that make it possible to use 100% of the raised money to save lives without worrying about having bread on the table the day after.
What’s the status of Atlas Festival?
The situation is difficult: we can’t hold a big festival in Ukraine right now, and we have a big team, so eventually it became impossible to pay people since we make no money and all our projects since the full-scale invasion were charity ones.
Are you still facing curfews?
Yes, and no one expects this to change any time soon. In Kyiv, the curfew lasts from midnight till 5 a.m. Regions closer to the frontline have their curfews start sooner.
Are there any concerts/festivals taking place?
Yes! There are a lot of events and concerts taking place all the time, some weekends come packed with a lot of options. We even have some of the first festivals taking place, treading the ground for how it can be done when Russian rockets or drones could come at any minute.
Do people even have the headspace right now to plan a nice night out, and spend money on a concert/comedy/family show ticket in spite of the war?
Yes. It’s extremely important for the morale and everyone’s mental health. You can’t have a night out due to the curfew, but you can definitely have a nice evening with your dear ones. And, again, it’s almost impossible to buy a ticket or anything in Ukraine without a portion of the money going to help us defend ourselves, and it goes beyond just taxes. Fundraising is everywhere. Donations, percentages from ticket purchases, charity auctions and raffles at concerts, you name it.
Events put your mind at ease, but not because you stop thinking about the war, that never happens. We always thank our Armed Forces for the privilege of being alive, and being able to go to a concert – they get long standing ovations. Often there is a minute of silence for those who sacrificed their lives for us. So, [going to events is] not escapism, but it helps, you feel unity with others.
Any resolution/change to the situation in sight?
We don’t have any illusions about this suddenly ending tomorrow, in a week or in a month. Ukrainians are tired, but we are learning to live in this new reality. It’s been more than 500 days. It’s a marathon. This can last another 500 days or longer, nothing has been decided yet apart from the fact that we are ready to defend our freedom till the end, but that alone is not enough. It’s up to the world to put an end to this and I would speak for many Ukrainians when I say we are a bit disillusioned by the hesitancy we see from some governments. The world’s help is one of the main reasons we are still alive, but there is still some hesitancy in enabling Ukraine’s victory. We ask people to keep showing their support for Ukraine so that their governments act with more confidence. We also fight to keep the world’s eyes on Ukraine as the war drags on, which is an uphill battle we need help with.
Anything else people should know about the state of things in Ukraine?
We need more people to come to Ukraine and to experience everything that is happening here firsthand. It is safe enough here and it is time for such visits to ramp up. When these people return home and talk about their experience, it goes a long way in breaking down the wall between Ukraine and the rest of the world that’s only growing bigger because of how extremely different our lives are now.
At Music Saves UA we did a project called Music Ambassadors Tour at the end of 2022, where we invited music professionals on a journey through Ukraine. Michal Kascak, founder of Pohoda Festival, was among them, and he has been coming back to Ukraine multiple times since to perform with his band Bez Ladu A Skladu, visiting Kherson to invite the local theatre to his festival. Pohoda Festival raised money to go to the frontlines, and her’s been telling the Slovak people and media about his experience. We can’t thank him enough for his help, and we hope more people from the industry will come here. We hope to do another Music Ambassadors Tour in autumn to show Ukraine to more industry people.
Recently, there were charity concerts by The Tiger Lillies, who dedicated their last album to Ukriane, and UK drum & bass legend London Elektricity came to play a charity show in Kyiv. It really means a lot to us here to see this kind of support and we need more of this to happen.