The Volokh Conspiracy

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Ukraine War Music

Three Russian War Songs in Honor of the Ukrainians


Perhaps ironically, the tragedy and courage of the Ukrainians puts me in mind of Russian songs about soldiers and soldiering. I can't think of any great modern American songs about this (I'm not speaking here of anti-war songs, powerful as they might be), and I don't know Ukrainian. But Russians have produced some superb ones, perhaps in part because World War II left such a broader and deeper mark on Russia than on America.

At the same time, I expect that many patriotic Ukrainians are in the same boat as I am, and remember, say, Bulat Okudzhava's Russian-language songs more than whatever Ukrainian songs about war that there might be. The fact—even though Putin has asserted it, it's still a fact—is that Ukrainians and Russians are indeed in many ways one people with a history that is shared much more than divided. Okudzhava was singing about Ukrainian soldiers, of whom millions fought against the Nazis (though some number fought on the other side as well) as much about the Russians. Okudzhava himself, who fought in the war, was Georgian, as it happens.

In any event, a few songs for our few readers who understand Russian:

[1.] Bulat Okudzhava's "Farewell to Poland":

[2.] Yuri Vizbor's "Vaniusha from Tiumen'," though you might translate it as "Johnny from the Hicks," performed to the same tune as Okudzhava's song, though the lyrics are very different.

[3.] Yuri Shevchuk's "Patsany," or perhaps "The Boys," this one inspired by the Chechen War, and containing the prescient line, "Here I saw what might well happen / To Moscow, Ukraine, the Urals" (Shevchuk, as it happens, just spoke out a couple of days ago against the invasion of Ukraine):

There are so many more, especially by Okudzhava (such as this one); Vysotskiy has some as well (such as this one), but I somehow could never really get into his work the way I have into Okudzhava's; and I imagine there are very many more that real Russians would know but that I don't. (If you have some recommendations, please post them.)

But I thought I'd mention these, partly because they are just the ones that are going through my mind, and partly as a gesture towards relations between Russians and Ukrainians as they should be.