The Volokh Conspiracy

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Ukraine War Music

Three Russian War Songs in Honor of the Ukrainians

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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.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: February 27, 1901

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  1. Come on, Eugene. Glorious songs are not compensation for being sent into a meat grinder by leaders who place no value on human life. Stop killing peasants and working people who want to go home. Russian military doctrine had people cheaper than armaments.

    Why can't it become the war policy of the United States to kill the oligarchs causing aggression and all their families down to the last kitten? End soveriegn immunity. It is a sick, delusional, incredibly lethal and toxic doctrine from the scumbag lawyer profession. To deter.

    Why? Because wars should cost a few million dollars not $trillions. That would empoverish the scumbag rent seeking lawyers running our government and their US oligarchic sponsors. We can set an example by killing our own first, both the toxic scumbag lawyers and their oligarchic sponsors.

    1. Question for Eugene.

      Can a Russian speaking Ukranian be distinguished from a Russian? Accent, dress, mannerism, idiomatic speech?

      This is a question about See a Russian, Kill a Russian.

      1. This is time for all law abiding citizens in Finland, Sweden, and Norway to receive an automatic weapon and attend safety classes.

        1. Hey, Eugene. How does one buy a ruble? Down 20% going to down by 40%.

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_music_during_World_War_II

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Songs_of_World_War_II

    "Unlike many World War I songs, many World War II songs focused more on romance and strength instead of propaganda, morale, and patriotism.[3] Songs that were overly patriotic or militaristic were often rejected by the public.[4]"

    Its certainly possible that there are fewer songs about soldiers and soldiering because "World War II left such a broader and deeper mark on Russia than on America."

    But Pearl harbor certainly left a pretty deep impact.

    I suspect that the reason is that Russian songs were more driven by approved party politics. In the US, they were driven by consumer choice. Yes, in the 1940s there were some pretty racist ones about killing Japanese soldiers.

    The other point is that American art about soldiers and soldering was more expressed through movies than music.

    1. Not to diminish the impact of Pearl Harbor but I suspect that seeing enemy troops marching into your country, ravaging the countryside and subjecting parts of the country to brutal occupation would have a bigger effect on the psyche of a nation than a surprise military attack. I'm grateful to live in a nation that hasn't seen foreign soldiers on its soil in over 200 years (not counting the Aleutians).

    2. Unlike many World War I songs, many World War II songs focused more on romance and strength instead of propaganda, morale, and patriotism.[3] Songs that were overly patriotic or militaristic were often rejected by the public.

      The Wikipedia editor has never heard Praise the Lord And Pass the Ammunition, apparently.

      1. Praise the Lord And Pass the Ammunition is listed as #12 in 1942.
        https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/video/1941/The-Andrews-Sisters-Boogie-Woogie-Bugle-Boy

        I looked over the charts from that era. I only recognize a few like the timeless "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and White Christmas.

        Based on the charts I'd say that Wikipedia quote is accurate.

  3. Minor quibble:

    Ukrainian soldiers, of whom millions fought against the Nazis (though some number fought on the other side as well)

    I've always thought they were fighting against Russian/USSR/Communist domination more than for the Nazis; same as the Finns, but differently.

  4. I'll candidly admit that social interactions are not my core competency. (To say the least!)

    But isn't honoring a nation under invasion with the songs of it's invader just a smidge tacky?

    Well, I'm not a Russian speaker, maybe the lyrics negate that. Perhaps somebody who understands the lyrics can confirm that?

    1. "But isn't honoring a nation under invasion with the songs of it's invader just a smidge tacky?"

      Well, there's the precedent of Lili Marleen.

      (as an aside, I highly recommend Fitzroy MacLean's books)

    2. 1. I appreciate your point, which I acknowledged in my first paragraph, and tried to respond to it in the second paragraph and the last paragraph; but of course different people may have different views.

      2. The lyrics aren't about Russia vs. Ukraine; they are about courage, honor, loss, love of country, and related matters. While they refer to particular places and events, I think their sentiments transcend any particular nation.

  5. Just a reminder Yevhen Volodymyrovych Volokh (Ukrainian: Євге́н Володимирович Волох, was born in Ukraine, when it was part of the Soviet Union and emigrated to the US at & years old.

    1. Sure, see my post from the day before, which discusses this.

    2. What prompted that reminder?

  6. You should listen to Ukrainian band 5nizza. They have a lovely soldier song called, simply, Ya Soldat.

    1. Thanks, just checked it out. Interestingly, it's also in Russian (except one stanza, which is in English) rather than in Ukrainian. I'm not sure whether that's because (1) the band members are native Russian speakers, (2) singing in Russian generally sharply increases the prospective audience (since most Ukrainians know Russian but few Russians know Ukrainian), or (3) both.

      According to Wikipedia, "A 2012 study showed that: on the radio [in Ukraine], 3.4% of songs were in Ukrainian while 60% were in Russian over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books were in Russian[, and] 28% of TV programs were in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels." Things might have changed since then, of course.

      1. 5nizza also has songs in Ukrainian. I don't speak Ukrainian so i don't know many Ukrainian speaking bands. My understanding, and i haven't been back since 2005, is that post 2014 Ukrainian became much more significant to a lot of people. Back in 2005 and earlier mostly i encountered Russian, but also i was in Crimea and Kiev and a little village outside Harkiv.

      2. Two other things you might find interesting if you don't mind heavy metal-

        American band jucifer has an album about the seige of Stalingrad.
        https://jucifer-official.bandcamp.com/album/-
        Quite amazing.

        And there is a Ukrainian band that does songs about world war 1 that is quite popular, they mostly sing in English- 1914.
        https://x1914x.bandcamp.com/album/where-fear-and-weapons-meet

  7. Here's a song from an opera by Mussorgsky which laments internal strife and civil war in Russia; much of it applies fairly well to the current situation in Ukraine. The singer is Ukrainian: the great Anatoly Kotcherga. You can get English subtitles by clicking "CC"; also, you can slide the slider to the beginning and watch the whole thing, it's well worth the time. An amazing piece. Everyone has heard of Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov; this one is his other opera, Khovanshchina which means "The Khovansky Plot" or "The Khovansky Affair" or "The Khovansky Thing"; the title is a reference to one of the main characters, Prince Ivan Khovansky. (Mussorgsky wrote a couple of operas in addition to the two, but they are almost never performed.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7JUbJWSKrY&t=2h52m48s

  8. OOPS I got the timer wrong. Here, this will work.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7JUbJWSKrY&t=5436s

  9. 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.

    Broader? Deeper? Why? Was Russia even in WW2? I know they kept our seat warm until we were ready to dispose of Hitler with one hand while crushing Hirohito with the other. But if Russians actually saw any of the fighting, I never heard about it.

    (It's amazing how easily trolled my Russian-born wife is by that flapdoodle. For some reason Russians have zero sense of humor about WW2!)

    1. " Was Russia even in WW2?"

      You're kidding, right? Yeah, I guess so.

      They actually were on both sides, and we'd have been in real trouble if Hitler hadn't turned on them.

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