Between exile and the Kremlin: Russian artists split by Ukraine

Between exile and the Kremlin: Russian artists split by Ukraine

Between exile and the Kremlin: Russian artists split by Ukraine

MOSCOW: After the Kremlin launched its offensive in Ukraine last year, Russian punk rocker Vladimir Kotlyarov left his country along with many other artists and cultural figures.

The lead singer of the Pornofilmy band was part of a wave of Russians who left in protest at President Vladimir Putin's military decision.

"It was disgusting for me to be in a society that practically did not react to the start of the war," he told AFP.

Russia's Ukraine campaign, which has dragged on for more than 15 months, has split Russian musicians.

While Kotlyarov and many others denounce the offensive from exile, other Russian artists chose to stay at home and ride the wave of nationalism, releasing patriotic hits.

Those who do not support the offensive but remain in Russia have either stayed silent or faced repression.

For Kotlyarov, the conclusion was clear.

"I understood that it would be very hard for me to live among such indifferent people," he told AFP backstage before a concert in the Armenian capital Yerevan, a hub for Russian exiles.

The singer now lives in neighbouring Georgia — another destination for those who have fled Russia.

He said the conflict plunged him into a "black hole".

After several months of not being able to write anything, he finally put words on paper.

"Music is like therapy for me. Maybe for a part of our audience it is also a kind of therapy," he said.

His band — which was already known for its lyrics scathing Russian authorities — has organised charity concerts to raise money for Ukrainian refugees.

"If it helps people then we should keep doing it."

 Stay silent or leave

Pornofilmy is not the only band in exile in the Caucasus speaking out against the Kremlin's policies.

Posters for concerts of Russian artists denouncing the conflict — such as the group Nogu Svelo! and veteran rocker Boris Grebenshchikov — are all over Yerevan.

These concerts give a sense of hope to the exiled Russians missing home.

At the Pornofilmy concert, 19-year-old Alexei Osin said listening to the band gave him "strength" and faith of one day returning home to "build a democratic Russia".

On stage, Kotlyarov sang: "My Russia in prison. But, believe me, it will pass!".

The crowd chanted back.

"General Secretaries die but artists remain," Kotlyarov told AFP smiling. "This is the Soviet proverb."

Another exiled Russian fan, 35-year-old manager Olga Smirnova, praised the band for speaking out against Moscow's offensive "uncompromisingly".

"It is nice to see that crowds come to concerts in Yerevan when such bands cannot perform in Russia."

Several Russian singers who chose to stay in Russia and speak out — such as legendary rocker Yuri Shevchuk — have been fined and had their concerts cancelled.

While some of Russia's cultural and artistic elite have left — including the country's pop queen Alla Pugacheva — many have gone the other way, gathering crowds in praise of the Russian army.

 'Traitors of the motherland'

In Zelenograd outside Moscow, crowds flocked to see Shaman, a pop star who has risen to fame during the offensive, performing at a Kremlin-organised patriotic concert.

The video for his song "I am Russian", released after Putin sent troops into Ukraine, has more than 35 million views on YouTube.

In the clip, the 31-year-old, whose real name is Yaroslav Dronov, sings "I am Russian. I am lucky" and "I am Russian, in spite of the world".

The blonde singer wears a wooden cross around his neck.

Shaman even performed the national anthem next to the Russian leader on Red Square in a ceremony celebrating Moscow seizing east Ukrainian territories.

He also sang for Russian troops in Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city taken by Moscow after a devastating battle last spring.

Shaman — like several other Russian artists who actively support the Kremlin's Ukraine campaign — refused to be interviewed by AFP.

At the Zelenograd concert, some of his pro-Putin fans — such as 23-year-old state company worker Yulia Shevchenko — were moved to tears.

"Despite the very difficult situation, such songs are very important and uplifting," she told AFP.

"This is what we need now to unite the country and the nation."

Another fan, 41-year-old hairdresser Tatiana Morozova, said Shaman's songs gave her hope for Moscow's victory in Ukraine.

"We will win" she said of the Ukraine conflict.

She called those artists who left Russia since the offensive "traitors of the motherland."

"I do not want them to come back."

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