Nearly 15 months into the war, he now has a number of other roles – fundraiser, frontline volunteer, and Ukraine’s cultural envoy to the world.
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And he’ll play his biggest role tonight when he steps on the Eurovision 2023 stage in Liverpool, in front of an estimated 3.5 million viewers worldwide.
Known under his stage name of Otoy, Drofa will share the stage with Ukraine’s 2006 Eurovision contestant, Mariya Yaremchuk, and Ukraine’s junior Eurovision rep from last year, Zlata Dziunka, in a performance labeled ‘Music Unites Generations.’
Otoy sat down with NV ahead of the biggest performance of his career to talk about the role he plays in the war with Russia.
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Music as Therapy
Like many Ukrainians, Otoy struggles with feelings of hatred. He has an understandable reason for the hurt.
His brother was part of the Azov Battalion defending besieged Mariupol in the opening months of the invasion. He went missing on April 15, 2022. For nearly a year, the family thought that he was a prisoner of war.
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They discovered recently that he was, in fact, killed that day. All that was recovered was his skull and one hand.
“The hate inside of me will remain at a high level until the day I die. I am sure I will raise my kids with this hatred for our enemies because we understand what Russia is about, what Russian culture is about,” he told NV.
“This is the way I’m going to live my life – and I think how every Ukrainian will raise their kids because there’s no chance we will ever forgive them. They’ve done too much; too much. They’ve crossed all the red lines that you can imagine – killing civilians, destroying our culture … The things that they’ve done – there’s no way that we’re going to forget that.”
Otoy turned to music to help him deal with these emotions. He pens evocative songs, graphically laying out how he would like to see his Russian enemies meet their ends. Drofa finds it therapeutic.
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“Music is my therapy, helping me get rid of these emotions. To pour them into my music, to put them in the lyrics, and letters, and sentences I put in my tracks. This is my best therapy – the best therapy you can imagine,” he said.
“I don’t know how people created music; who thought that we could sing, that we could make music, that we could make musical instruments. I bet that guy was awesome!”
Music as a Fundraising Tool
Of course, pen on paper is one thing, but a gun in hand is quite another. So, Otoy picked up a weapon and headed to the frontlines to help.
He was aided by Musicians Defend Ukraine, an organization that helps musicians get non-lethal equipment like flak jackets, quality boots, and helmets if they want to volunteer with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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The group purchased a helmet and bulletproof vest for Otoy.
“Unfortunately, I lost that helmet as we were evacuating someone from Lysychansk (Luhansk Oblast). A shell hit my helmet and split it in two.”
That incident gave Otoy an idea: he auctioned the destroyed helmet at a concert, raising UAH 15,000 ($406) for Azov One, the fundraising arm of his deceased brother’s unit.
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Like other Ukrainian musicians during the war, Otoy performs to help raise funds for the Ukrainian army.
His next concert is set for June 30 at 19.00 at Kyiv’s Stereo Plaza (119 Lobanovsky Ave.). Tickets start at UAH 500, with a portion of the proceeds going to Azov One.
Still, the mental stress from serving at the front lines can take its toll.
“When you kill somebody (in battle) – you don’t feel that you just took someone’s life, (or that) they had parents, or a family, because they are your enemy. They came to your country trying to kill you,” he explains.
“(Killing) is a primal, animal instinct. It’s scary stuff. It’s pretty hard to go back to civilian life with these feelings, these emotions of what you just went through.”
Music as a Communications Tool
Otoy feels it’s the job of not just every Ukrainian singer, but of every Ukrainian, to remind the world of what is happening in the country.
“Even with all the articles, breaking news remains on our minds for just a few hours. People forget about things three days later,” he said, before telling the story of how his taxi driver in Liverpool thought the war was over because he hadn’t seen anything on the news about it for months.
“The thing I want people to understand is that we should talk about the war in Ukraine every day, because this is the only way we’re going to keep people all around the world informed – and to keep them engaged.”
He notes the importance of this effort to communicate.
“Right now, we’re fighting the biggest evil since WWII. It’s crazy – if we lose this war, Poland will be next. Poland is part of NATO. Article 5. Nuclear exchange. There you go,” he said, as if reciting freestyle lyrics from an upcoming track.
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“This is the reason why everyone needs to keep it serious.”
He’ll have the biggest stage of his life tonight.
Eurovision as a Platform
Otoy is well aware of the opportunity he has at tonight’s Eurovision semi-final. He is proud to be on stage with two other fantastic Ukrainian singers, to be able to show the world a little of Ukrainian culture.
“I am proud of Ukrainian culture and that the world will finally understand what Ukraine is and what the Ukrainian culture is – not some sort of appendage of Russia’s,” he said.
“We will show the world that our culture is ancient, that there are tons of elements to it, to our history. We will show that. And we will spread it around the world.”
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The show promises to incorporate one of the most popular folk songs with one of the most popular national poems, blended and mixed into a modern-sounding package.
“It sounds completely different, but still crazy good. For five minutes, we will be showing our history.”
The gravity of the moment seems to catch him off guard.
“I’ve had fun being here, in Liverpool. But maybe this is the first time in my civilian life since the full-scale invasion that I’m scared. Because people are expecting that I will do something really awesome, or really cool about Ukrainian culture,” he said.
“I don’t even know how to explain it (the pressure) to you.”
Music as part of Ukraine’s ‘Cultural Front’
Otoy then formulates exactly why he is doing what he does.
“(Before his death), my brother had a son and a 16-year-old stepson. That kid lost his father in 2014, (when he was) fighting the Russians. Then, my brother married his mother and became the best father in the world,” he said, pausing for a moment to gather his thoights.
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“That kid has lost two fathers (to Russian aggression) and he is just 16 years old. To see the emotion in his face…”
He remembers how therapeutic music can be.
“When everything’s good, I don’t feel that I want to make something (another track) because I want to keep that good feeling for as long as I can. When everything is bad, when I feel only negative emotions – I’m trying to do everything I can to get rid of it as fast as I can.”
The conversation keeps coming back to his paramount concept – responsibility.
“Every Ukrainian, in every sphere – especially in art – every Ukrainian musician is trying to do something to win this war. All of us are trying to do as much as we can – and more – to help the Ukrainian people and our troops. That’s why I help raise money for Azov One,” he said.
“This is the only way we can live our lives right now, as Ukrainian musicians.”
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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine