Antytila frontman Taras Topolia talks to Student Pocket Guide live from Ukraine. Forced to represent his country during the war in Ukraine, Taras talks to us about being a medic for the Ukrainian army, fighting for freedom and releasing his bands superb new song 2step, with Ed Sheeran!
Interview by Ben Farrin
Pryvit Taras, hello, how are you coping after two months of fighting?
I’m alive. And it is important. It is the main. But I’m not fighting every day because I’m serving as a paramedic, in a paramedical team – our main aim is to help wounded soldiers to survive. But of course I have my own weapon, gun.
Have you used weapons / guns before the war?
Just for training. After school I went to the police academy so I know how to use guns and automatic weapon.
How are you feeling within yourself?
I’m fine. I have a good mood today because our armed forces are recapturing Ukrainian small and big cities and of course it happens around Kharkiv where I am serving now. It gives hope that during maybe next month our army will recapture a lot of cities and push out Russian troops from Kharkiv district. I hope.
How long are you expecting the war to continue?
I want it to end right now. But it depends. It depends on a lot of things. First of all it depends on our Ukrainian unity and bravery of our soldiers. The second is weapons. We are also expecting help from Europe and United States with hard weapon, with artillery, with tanks. We’re waiting for machines that can beat Russians a lot. And of course it’s very important about the financial system of our country. Russians bomb our infrastructure. It’s very bad for our economy.
Is there anything that people from the UK or further afield can do to support you during this tragic time?
I want to say first of all that the people of Great Britain are supporting us already, very much. A lot. And we are very thankful about this. Every time when I have an opportunity to say this, I do this. So I say thank you for Great British people, for the government of Great Britain for supporting us and it is very important that it starts before the war. A lot of weapons from Great Britain came to us before the war started and it helped us to resist the first Russian attack. But of course we need more. We need more just not for us, but for the whole of Europe because now we are standing for the whole of Europe. I think it’s clearly understandable for everyone in Great Britain especially in the political sphere, between the politicians. We’re here defending the European values and the freedom world so we need your help. We need the help from Great Britain. First of all it should be weapons, a lot of weapons. Because now we understand clearly that this war ends only when we will get the victory. Only in this case. What we need more is of course a lot of money. A lot of money to support our economy. I can’t allow to ask for more money, it’s not polite. But I think everybody understands that the body of the nation, the body of the country – the blood of the country, it is money. It’s an economical system. So we need this blood, we need this help, but of course we will remember it and we will never forget this. Of course when we have any small opportunity to say thank you and to give back something from us, we will do this.
What’s keeping you going, what’s keeping you focused?
I’m keeping my focus when I am thinking about the future of my kids. Our children. I have 3 children with my wife. Now they are in America with my wife in the house of my mum and stepfather. They are in a safe place. My relatives helps them every day. My oldest son was born in America, he is an American citizen. But I dream, and I know that it will be that my kids will live here in Ukraine. They will build a new country, exactly here. We are fighting now for their future. Every time when it is so hard to do something, every time when we are disappointed of something, we are thinking about our kids. That we are here making their future by small steps. And it is the main.
If you can talk about it, what’s been the worst part of this war for you so far? What’s been the worst experience?
On only the third day of this war one soldier, one man from our battalion was killed. A lot were injured. It was so hard for me. The third day of the war – you should feel this moment. Me, who was before this war, an artist – I’m staying to be an artist but, before the war I was an artist who smiled from the stage, who sung my songs from the stage and moving with a lot of people like “hello, c’mon, light your lights”. And third day of the war, I take the body in my hands and transport the killed body from the second stage of our building where we were. Through the first floor and then to the medical car. A killed man. The body of a killed man. It was very hard and stressful but you know now we have adapted. We adapted for this because we are living in this reality and we have no choice. Just to adapt to it and do our work.
Do you believe there will ever be peace in the future between Ukraine and Russia?
History shows for us that every time when Russians, even after defeating, tries to build a new society and to find their new way to develop their country. Every time it comes to one point. A point when they start to think that they are big, main nation, that they are better than another, and tries to force other nations nearby. It happens every time. So I don’t believe in this scenario that someday that they will live with us, nearby us like a peaceful nation and try to build something normal, communication, no. I think that every time they will try to defeat us so we have only one way. After we get the victory we should become stronger and stronger. Don’t let them even think about shooting in our side.
I want to take a moment to congratulate you on what is an amazing song, an amazing collaboration – can you tell me about it? How did the collaboration come about with Ed Sheeran?
Our video in which we applied to Ed Sheeran became viral. We proposed to the organisers of the charity event in Birmingham to take part from Kyiv in this event, remotely. But they declined us because we are wearing uniform, we are carrying guns in our arms – because of that humanitarian purpose of that charity event we were declined. We of course were a little bit disappointed about the decision and a little bit sad but we agreed with this decision. We have no choice but to agree to this decision and say thank you for helping Ukrainian people because first of all the main aim of that charity event was to help Ukrainian people to gather the money, to gather the funds, for Ukrainian refugees. So they gathered a lot of money, maybe over ten million pounds. It was very good, so we say thank you for supporting Ukrainian’s and of course agreed with this decision but after maybe one week or four days, the Ed Sheeran teams got back to us and proposed to take a part in this song (2step), to collaborate. They proposed to us to create the new lyrics for the second verse and the second chorus of this song. Of course we said yes because it was a huge opportunity, through this song to express what we feel, to tell people from all other the world, because Ed Sheeran is a huge star. Not just a star in Great Britain but he is a world star. So, we said yes and it was really hard first of all to create the lyrics coz in that time there were a lot of Russian troops in the outskirts of Kyiv, in Bucha, in Irpin, in Hostomel, and the Ukrainian army was trying to recapture the city and it was hard battles every day in Kyiv. And we were surrounded in Kyiv – of course first of all we was doing our tasks of command. Among this we created a lyric. I decided to tell my own story about how the war started for me. This story is not just only my story, it’s a story of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian people whose peaceful life was interrupted by the war. By the sirens, by the huge impacts. After that when we created the lyrics it was also very difficult to record in the studio. Because our studio was under occupation in Hostomel, that building was under Russian occupation but you know we have a lot of friends. Thanks to God we are a really popular band in Ukraine and we have a lot of friends. We asked our friend Maxim Savalrs to help us to record the voice in the studio and he of course said yes. After that we recorded the voice in the studio and then as usual we used to compare the song with the video. Because when you are comparing these two parts the impact of emotion is more powerful when people are not just listening to the music but watching the music. But one remark, at that time when we decided to create the video for this song our battalion was replaced from Kyiv to Kharkiv, where we are now in Kharkiv, in that time we had no opportunities to make the video. A good video, not to just film something and release, but to do something good, like to try and do a masterpiece – we had no opportunities to do this. We asked our friend Mitya Shmurak, who became a director of this video to help us so we just managed the idea – we created the idea of the video and he really liked this idea. With his team, and with help of our friends. He done maybe 80% of the video by himself and his team, but 20% of the video in the frames when I am singing in the camera it was filmed by us nearby our military positions in Kharkiv. It was very fast because our positions and the area between our positions every time were under fire. It’s not allowed to stop for a lot of time in one place because Russians are seeking you from the sky and start to attack and make a fire in that place. We filmed it on the GoPro 9 in our car and we made this couple of takes. This video was also created by very creative people in very fast terms, but with big patience coz everyone understood that it was very important to create something good to talk to people through this. To spread our emotion. To spread what we are going through, this war.
The song is amazing, the video is amazing. Your voices I think are just the perfect match for one another. It’s a great, great track. Did you communicate much with Ed Sheeran himself?
Yeah, we communicated through social media, through Instagram direct messages. But also our PR manager Anna, she connected of course with the team of Ed Sheeran. They communicate in a professional aspect and I am communicating like in personal with Ed Sheeran.
I’m sure it will be number one. It’s gotta be a number one track. How would that make you feel going to number one in the UK and around the world?
First of all I want to get the victory in this war. And after, ohhhh, we will burn it out, burn the stage out – we’ll make INCREDIBLE gigs [laughs]! We can do this. We know how to do this. But first of all just to get the victory and to establish freedom here. Like a democracy, freedom here and become a part of freedom world.
Are you able to sing a part of the song?
I will remember the part [sings….]. I don’t know, can you here that loud sound there? Russian bombs are… Ok, we better stop. It’s ok, it’s ok, I am not scared about this. They are foolish! They are foolish. Are you ok? Yeah coz Russians are foolish. Every time they are missing. Not in the point. Russians cannot fight. Something just happened there then, because it broke up a bit!? Something happened there [points], they are bombing there. Unbelievable. But they are suckers.
I also wanted to say that my wife is Ukrainian, I have been to Lviv many times. Her family successfully came back to us a few weeks ago. Our daughter is half Ukrainian. So it means so much to me.
Cool! So you know what it means.. borscht? Borscht, it is Ukrainian soup. Yes, yes I have had it! It’s pink, right? Yes you should taste it. I’ve had it, it’s pink, with cabbage I think in a mug – I’ve had it, lovely food! Yes! So they are here they are safe. It means a lot to us, so thank you so, so much, I wish you the very, very best. Hopefully one day you’ll be on tour with Ed Sheeran, and we can meet at some stage, I don’t know. Thank you, I hope, I hope!
Heroyam slava! Thank you, good bye. Stay safe.
Watch our exclusive video interview with Taras Topolia, lead singer from Antytila, live from Ukraine:
LISTEN TO AND DOWNLOAD ED SHEERAN FEAT ANTYTILA – 2STEP HERE