The tragic reality of Russia’s bloody war on Ukraine took centre stage in a rather unusual setting recently – the Eurovision song contest.
The embattled nation was supposed to host the event but due to the ongoing and deadly conflict, it was relocated to Liverpool.
Ukrainian performers not only attended the ever-popular show but made sure to use the opportunity to spread their message to the huge TV audience.
Among them was Kyiv rapper Otoy, who lost his own brother on the frontline.
He described the “adrenaline and emotion” coursing through his body as he took to the stage earlier this month, telling The Independent: “I have never felt such a level of solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people as I did in Liverpool.
“That level of understanding and emotion at Eurovision – it was crazy. Everybody was with you and your country. It felt like, ‘We support you because you are going through hell’.”
Otoy is no stranger to that hell, having received tragic news in March that a body discovered in Ukraine was his brother, who had gone missing the previous April while defending besieged Mariupol.
“I don’t even know what I felt,” said Otoy. “When you’re hoping for a year that he’s alive and can’t find anything, then realise his body is in Kyiv and you should identify it.
“In fact, this isn’t even a body – it’s a head, a bit of a leg, part of a hand, little bits of bones. We could only identify him through his teeth. It feels really bad, the worst emotions I had in my life actually.”
The rapper’s music reflects his fury and he accuses Russia of trying to “destroy” Ukraine and its culture.
“I feel a lot of anger inside of me because of the things the Russians are doing,” he said. “They already crossed all the red lines, there’s no way back, we should fight till the end.
“If we stop now then give it 10 years and they’ll come back with a bigger army and then they’ll invade Poland, which is a member of Nato. We’re fighting a worldwide evil.
“The reason we’re doing it is we are really tired of that Russian b******t – trying to destroy Ukraine, our culture, our musicians.”
Not only has the 24-year-old tackled the war through his music, he volunteered on the frontline last summer by salvaging the bodies of dead soldiers and bringing them back to their families.
He is also fundraising to provide military supplies to Ukrainian soldiers for the country’s planned counteroffensive.
His day job is in IT, working as a UX director at Alty, which created RSFY, a mobile tracker of Russian army losses. The company also developed the app TacticMedAid, which provides medical instructions for people if they input their symptoms after getting injured.
“It feels like a surreal dream I live in,” he said. “Every time when there’s some air or rocket attacks, or shelling, it feels like this type of nightmare. I think, give me a couple of minutes, then everything will be OK – but I never wake up because that has continued for more than a year.”
He is hopeful the war will come to an end his year but says the road to recovery after that will not be easy.
“It will be a hard time – receiving bodies back, lots of funerals, lots of rebuilding cities, people returning to their houses and realising there’s no home because it will have been destroyed,” he said. “After the war, I don’t know what people will do with their emotions, I’m really scared of this.”
Otoy said he will continue to make music and apps when the conflict is over, and had nothing but praise for his countrymen and women as they continue to fight against Putin’s forces.
“The only thing that helps me feel alive and some kind of emotions is the process of making music and to know that millions of Ukrainians will use the IT applications I work on,” he said. “Those are two things I’ll be doing until the end of my days.
“I’m feeling proud about Ukrainians. People are staying in their country, for their homeland, until the end, until their last breath.”