A UKRAINIAN Eurovision song contest winner is pushing her voice to the limit belting out songs nightly to keep up the morale of protesters camped out a snowy Kiev square – the unlikely figurehead of movement to oust President Viktor Yanukovich.
Ruslana Lyzhychko won with a song “Wild Dances” in 2004, becoming Ukraine’s only Eurovision winner. For political elites that contest may seem a celebration of inanity, but for Ukrainians dreaming of a European future it brought recognition before a huge continental audience.
“Last night was a record for me – eight hours on stage,” Lyzhychko told Reuters. “People look to me and they also stay.”
The long nights in freezing temperatures have taken their toll. She looked worn to the bone, her face bare of make up and hair dishevelled, sucking throat lozenges as she whisked into the opposition’s improvised HQ for another night.
Lyzhychko, her petite form belying a powerful deep voice, has been on stage virtually all night, every night in more than two weeks since protesters occupied the main square, enraged by Yanukovich’s decision to scrap an EU trade deal and move the former Soviet republic closer to Moscow.
Although she has become a hero to protesters camped out inside the barricades, not everyone shares their qualms about the beckoning of powerful northern neighbour Russia.
President Vladimir Putin wants Kiev, heavily indebted over Russian gas, as a central pillar in a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan to rival the EU and the United States.
But Lyzhychko sings on as protestors prepare for mass weekend demonstrations and Russia and the EU vie for Kiev’s favour, all the while cautious of the country’s huge debts.
Instantly surrounded by a half-dozen activists at Kiev’s central Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Ruslana plots strategy, ignoring the make up artist and hair-dresser who fuss around her. Minutes later, she is transformed and ready for battle: eyes rimmed in sultry, dark eye-shadow and jet black locks swept up into an Amazonian pony tail.
One night, Lyzhychko’s voice boomed out from the stage like a commander rallying troops as protestors shoved back against black-clad riot police, who tried to clear the streets without using force but eventually withdrew, far outnumbered.
Rock music blaring and fists pummelling the air, she belted out the refrain of a popular hit by one of Ukraine’s most popular bands, Okean Elzy: “I won’t give up without a fight,” calling on people to wake friends to swell their numbers and raising chants of “Maidan, exists!”
The pop star was also active in those 2004-2005 streets protests that succeeded in overturning a fraudulent election won by Yanukovich but not in reforming the political system that saw him again win the presidency in 2010.
“Russia is our past, Europe must be our future,” said Lyzhychko, who is from Lviv, about 60 km from Ukraine’s western border with EU member Poland where many see Russians as occupiers who oppressed their country in the Soviet era.