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Taras Shevchenko (left) and Kateryna Pavlenko from the band Go_A sing exclusively in Ukrainian and represented Ukraine on the main stage in 2021 at Eurovision, the popular European song contest.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Taras Shevchenko (left) and Kateryna Pavlenko from the band Go_A sing exclusively in Ukrainian and represented Ukraine on the main stage in 2021 at Eurovision, the popular European song contest.

Claire Harbage/NPR

KYIV, Ukraine — Anton Slepakov, a Ukrainian electronic musician, used to spend a lot of time recording music in Russia. That was back when he used to sing exclusively in Russian with his former band.

It made business sense. Bigger, richer Russia offered Ukrainian musicians more lucrative gigs, and singing in Russian attracted a deeper pool of fans.

“It didn’t bother anyone,” says Slepakov, now the lead singer of an underground electronic band called Vagonovozhatye, Russian for “tram drivers.”

All that changed after 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and fueled a separatist rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. That sparked an eight-year war that escalated this week, as Russia sent in troops and asserted the region’s independence from Ukraine in an attempt to tear off that part of the country.

In 2014, “We were in talks to play in this very cool Russian club, Chinese Pilot,” says the 49-year-old Kyiv-born musician, who wears a screw for an earring. “But during the negotiations, Russia’s aggression in Donbas began, and we as a band decided we cannot tour in Russia.”



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