Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the soaring melody of Ukraine’s national anthem has been heard worldwide, from antiwar protests in Moscow to the stages of major concert halls, from N.B.A. basketball arenas to TikTok posts.
Known by its opening line, “Ukraine’s glory has not perished,” the anthem is being heard daily in Ukraine too, played by military bands in the middle of bomb-damaged cities, sung tearfully by women sweeping up debris in their homes and, on Saturday, in a vital open-air performance by an opera company in the port city of Odessa, despite fears of an imminent Russian bombing campaign.
And on Monday night, the anthem shook the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, whose white travertine exterior was draped in an enormous Ukrainian flag and bathed in blue and yellow lights for its “Concert for Ukraine.”
Alyona Alyona, one of Ukraine’s biggest rappers, said in a Skype interview from her home in Baryshivka, a town east of Kyiv, that she was hearing the anthem about “20 times a day” on Ukrainian TV, where it was being used to rally the country. She had contributed to a compilation of the country’s music stars singing it, she added. “This song has a very big meaning,” she said.
Even in Russia, Ukraine’s anthem has been heard, with some antiwar protesters in Moscow having been filmed defiantly singing it while being arrested.
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Paul Kubicek, a political scientist at Oakland University who has written extensively about Ukraine, said the anthem was penned in the 1860s when much of what is today Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire. It was “a time of cultural awakening,” Kubicek said, with elites looking to “revive and celebrate a Ukrainian heritage that was at risk of being lost to a process of Russification.”
Those elites included Pavlo Chubynsky, an ethnologist and poet, who in 1862 wrote the lyrics after being inspired by patriotic songs from Serbia and Poland. The following year, a composer and priest, Mykhailo Verbytsky, set Chubynsky’s words to music.
Rory Finnin, a professor of Ukrainian studies at Cambridge University, said Chubynsky’s song was one of a host of texts that worried the Russian authorities around that time. In 1863, they began censoring almost all Ukrainian publications, Finnin said. Soon, Chubynsky was expelled from the country “for disturbing the minds” of the public, Finnin added.
The Russian Empire’s efforts to quash Ukrainian identity didn’t meet with much success. After World War I, Chubynsky’s song was briefly made Ukraine’s anthem (in 1918, The New York Times published its lyrics) until the country was absorbed into the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities later gave Ukraine a new anthem, claiming the country had “found happiness in the Soviet Union.”
It was only after the Soviet Union collapsed that Chubynsky and Verbytsky’s work returned as the national anthem., and it has been a vital part of Ukrainian life ever since. In 2013 and 2014, it was sung hourly in Kyiv’s Maidan Square at protests against President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s push to make the country closer to Russia. Finnin said he was present at some of those protests and the anthem “was almost used for counting time.”
Now, the anthem’s being used to inspire once more, both within the country and abroad. Below are some of the more notable international performances from the past two weeks:
Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma
To open a recent performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos said he wanted to play Ukraine’s anthem as a sign of “respect and solidarity” with the country. What starts as a gentle, almost brittle, rendition, soon brings out the melody’s power.
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The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin
The Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Marin Alsop
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Marin Alsop appeared intense as she conducted the Orchestra de Paris in the anthem earlier this month, and with players standing to perform, she gave the anthem verve and power.
In Concert Halls Across Europe
As well as the above standout performances, the anthem has filled concert halls in the Netherlands, Britain, Poland, France, Germany and other nations across Europe, as this video compilation shows.