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When Russia invaded, the lead singer of one of Ukraine’s biggest pop-rock bands swapped his microphone for fatigues and headed to the front lines as a battlefield medic.
Singer Taras Topolia has now taken on an additional role, teaming up with pop star Ed Sheeran to raise relief funds for Ukraine.
Mr. Sheeran and Mr. Topolia’s band Antytila released a video remake of Mr. Sheeran’s 2021 hit “2Step” this week, featuring Mr. Topolia rapping about his personal experience during the war.
“The sirens interrupted our sleep,” sings Mr. Topolia in Ukrainian. “Take in two suitcases all that has passed, then go! To go!”
“My friends and I became soldiers and joined the Territorial Defense Forces on the first day of the war,” Topolia, 34, said via video chat from outside Kharkiv, where his 130th battalion is now parked. “Ukraine will achieve victory.”
The music video was recorded in cities where the battle raged – Irpin, Kharkiv and in a kyiv theater named after famous Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka.
Mr. Topolia’s portion was recorded on the road between his battalion’s battle positions in northeastern Ukraine, he said, in part using a GoPro.
“Positions are still under fire,” he said. “It’s very dangerous if you stop there for more than 10 minutes because Russian drones and snipers are at work.”
For sound recording, Topolia said his kyiv studio was inaccessible when Russia began attacking the capital on February 24, but the band found a studio in nearby Hostomel. He said the team came under Russian fire while filming parts of the video in Kharkiv.
Mr Sheeran, who was not available for comment, had filmed the original ‘2Step’ video in Kyiv before the war started. In this video version, Mr. Sheeran posted a note that reads, “I support Ukraine.
The collaboration with Mr. Sheeran began after Antytila offered to play this year at a Ukrainian benefit concert in Birmingham, UK, where Mr. Sheeran was also performing. Concert organizers rejected Antytila’s offer because of their member’s ties to the Ukrainian military, Topolia said.
But later, representatives of Mr. Sheeran contacted him to offer him a collaboration.
The video has garnered more than 10 million streams since it was uploaded on Monday, according to a representative for Mr. Topolia. Funds raised from Youtube video royalties will be sent to Music Saves UA, a music business organization in Ukraine that has refocused its efforts to help refugees during the war, according to a statement from Mr Sheeran. Music Saves could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mr Topolia said he became a medic in the current conflict after serving in that role during the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Donbass region. He said he has helped many wounded soldiers in the current conflict and prepared them for a possible chemical attack by using gas masks and medicinal antidotes such as atropine.
In Ukraine, Antytila attracts stadium crowds with thousands of people. On tour in other European countries and the United States, the crowds are much smaller. The band, for example, performed in New York City at the 450-capacity Cutting Room in 2018.
Were MM. Sheeran and Topolia knew each other before the conflict? “I knew him, of course; his songs are very famous in Ukraine. But I don’t think he knew who I was.