A Taste of Ukraine in History, Art and Music

This is a remake of my August 2022 post, “Bella Ciao – Obiymy – Embrace Me – Despacito – Do Something.”  I made one giant improvement.  I removed almost everything I wrote, and left it to the Ukrainians.  The old post is gone.

If you are new to this blog or perhaps did not get a look at them before, take another look at my posts about Ukraine.  There’s a lot of history in those posts, plus art and music.  I hope they raise awareness of the spirit of Ukraine.

What does Ukraine’s flag stand for?  NATURE.  Blue sky and yellow waves of wheat fields.

What’s on your flag?

To get a sense of the way Ukraine sees itself, it will help to look at a crucial moment in its recent history.  In 2015 Netflix released, and subsequently made available for free viewing on YouTube, a 98-minute documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (IMDb page) about Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan Revolution (Revolution of Dignity), fought without war, but with unarmed protesting civilians defending against militarized police.  Watch it and learn about the Ukrainian soul’s thirst for democracy represented by that flag.

On YouTube     /     On Vimeo     /      or look it up on Netflix if you have that.

The documentary rates 8.3 on IMDb.  Others I pulled from the top of my head for comparison …  Saving Private Ryan: 8.6. Sound of Music: 8.1. Philadelphia: 7.7. ET: 7.9.

YouTube has put a “viewer discretion” notice on it, preventing me from showing it here.  You will be prevented from watching it if you are not logged in to YouTube.  Watch it with the kids.  Use the CC button at the bottom of the video window to turn on translated captions.

The Vimeo offering does not have the lame-sighted prohibition.

Learn about Ukrainians and their culture, and share it.  Like this:

More to come.

2008 Ukraine postage sheet celebrating Crimean Nature Reserve.

Unite behind Ukraine.  Give her a little love today.  We cannot afford to be numb to Ukraine, The Shield of Europe, the battleground of democracy, decency, and humanity.

2004 Ukraine postage s631. Dancers in traditional dress.

You may have heard of the world famous Italian protest song, Bella Ciao.  From Wikipedia:

Bella ciao” (Italian pronunciation: [ˈbɛlla ˈtʃaːo]; “Goodbye beautiful”) is an Italian protest folk song from the late 19th century, originally sung by the mondina workers in protest against the harsh working conditions in the paddy fields of northern Italy.

It is generally accepted that the song was modified and adopted as an anthem of the Italian resistance movement by the partisans who opposed nazi-fascism between 1943 and 1945 during their fight against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany allied to the fascist and collaborationist Italian Social Republic, although some historians argue that there is little to no evidence that this song was actually sung by Italian partisans.

Versions of “Bella ciao” continue to be sung worldwide as an anti-fascist hymn of freedom and resistance.

It is popular in Ukraine, as you are about to see.

For many years there have been Ukrainian versions of the song.  I want to share two of them with you.  First, a Ukrainian performance of the Italian version.

The performance below is by the fantastic Ukrainian group B&B Project (button accordion and bandura — the Ukrainian instrument) with guitar and singing by Armenian musician Elena Yerevan.  An international bouquet of music and musicians.

I introduced B&B Project in earlier posts about Ukraine.  Here is their YouTube playlist of 60 Ukrainian folk songs.  Visit their YouTube channel for much more of their amazing work, including contemporary and classical music.

My favorites are their engrossing performance of Storm, adapted from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and their special B&B instrumental cover of the Puerto Rican love song, Despacito.  All of their music videos are delightful to see and hear.  You can spend all day browsing their YouTube channel.

(The original Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee is a blend of rap and Latino rock.)

Song: Bella Ciao performed by Elena Yerevan & B&B Project [using the Partisan lyrics, not the Mondine folk song lyrics].

You don’t have to understand a single word of Italian to enjoy this.  But here is what it says, in English:

Lyrics for Partisan version of Ciao Bella (Wikipedia)

One morning I awakened,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao! (Goodbye beautiful)
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.

Oh partisan carry me away,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.

And if I die as a partisan,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.

Bury me up in the mountain,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and all those who shall pass
will tell me “what a beautiful flower.”

This is the flower of the partisan,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
this is the flower of the partisan
who died for freedom

Notice the elements of nature in the song.  Morning.  Mountain.  Flower.  “This is the flower of the partisan who died for freedom.”  Is it any wonder our relationship with nature is so integral to all of our reality?  It is magnified and glorified in the arts.

Song: Bella Ciao, Ukrainian patriotic adaptation by Khrystyna Soloviy.

English translation of lyrics, quoted from the song’s YouTube page:

Early one morning, without warning,
The earth was shaking and blood rushed right to our heads,
Rockets descending, tanks neverending –
In anger roared old Dnipro.

[or Dnieper, a major river in Ukraine, and Dnipro is Ukraine’s fourth largest city, with about one million inhabitants (before the war)]

Nobody thought that, no one expected
The righteous fury in Ukrainian souls:
Destroy aggressors, remorse not given
To any darklings who come to our land

The Ter[ritorial]. Defences have the best lads
Only the heroes fight in the Army of Ukraine.
Javelin launchers, Bayraktar fliers
Fight for Ukraine and beat Roosnia*

Our mighty people, folks of Ukraine,
United worldwide rise against aggression from Roosnia*,
We’ll soon destroy them, and win our freedom,
And there will be peace again
* “The Roosnia” is Ukrainian slang for aggressive, xenophobic Russians influenced by Kremlin propaganda of Russian imperial Nazism

If you liked the Italian partisan version, set it aside and forget about it.  This one is even more of, by and for Ukraine.  Click the CC button to see the English subtitles.


Next Song: Obiymy (Embrace Me).  Cover by the band Ocean Elsa [Elzy] of a song by Sviatoslav Vakarchuk and Okean Elzy.

English translation of lyrics:

When the day comes
The war will be over.
I lost myself there.
I saw it all to the bottom.

Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
So tenderly, and don’t let me go.
Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
Let your spring come.

And here is my soul,
Laying down its weapon.
Does it really want
Warm tears so much?

Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
So tenderly, and don’t let me go.
Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
Let your spring come.

[Child speaking:]
We pray for Mariupol
We pray for Kharkiv
For Kyiv
We pray for Ukraine

Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
And don’t ever let it go like that.
Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
Let your spring come.

Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
And don’t ever let it go like that.
Embrace me, embrace me, embrace me.
Let your spring come.

(Click the CC button for English subtitles.)

Artists’ comments on the YouTube page:

Today, the song Obiymy (Embrace me), written by Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, sounds like a prayer for Ukraine.

It helps to believe that the victory is near, that those war-torn families will reunite, and the souls wounded by hellish wrath will be healed.

Embrace me — is a begging of a child to the mother to hide from the explosions.

Embrace me — is a plea of a woman to the beloved man to return alive.

Embrace me — is a cry to the Holy Mother to give strength to survive the longing for those who will not return.

The enemy had uprooted us from our peaceful lives and threw us into the crossroads of war.

But we are alive. We are fighting. And we are praying. Everyone — in the way they can.

Please listen to Obiymy, find some shelter in it, and strengthen your faith.

We will win.

We all are Ukraine!

Idea: Oleg Navolniev.

Vocal: Ivan Rozin, Olga Chernienko.

Guitars: Ivan Rozin, Oleg Navolniev, Ivan Marchenko.

Children’s choir: Veronika Ivanova, Nazar Kitcha, Yegor Turcheniak, Kira Chystakhovska, Nazar Yanovski, Yeva Matiushenko.
Choir leader — Vasyl Rudenko.

String Quartet: Yulia Bun-Volkotrub (violin), Oksana Zhurkina (violin), Anastasia Konotop (cello), Olena Grechka (viola).

Special thanks to Sviatoslav Vakarchuk and the Okean Elzy music band for the great song and the inspiration.

Here it is again, with an orchestra and dancers who say it in their art, sending you their Ukraine, their way.  This is the art of Ukraine expressing the experience of war.  It is not about war.  It is Ukraine meeting us in the enigmatic air of the soul, in spaces we live in that cannot be defined except in art, and read by the heart.  The passion they suffer is ours if we dare accept it.

The world needs our tears, our experience of its pain.  It is the world crying in us, through us.  Denial of the horror is denial of ourselves.  We have its joys as well.  Bring them.  Embrace both.  Do something.

Song: Obejmij mnie/Обійми by Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy).  Result of cooperation band “IRA”, Stoklosa Collective Orchestra with Ukrainian band “Ocean Elzy.”

Artists’ notes:

MUSIC OF FREEDOM – An international charity initiative aimed at supporting refugees and victims of Russian aggression.  We present you the first piece of “Music of Freedom”. Please be advised that all persons involved in the creation of this recording and clip have waived their fees.

From MusicOfFreedom.com (visit for information on how artists can participate):

Social project of polish and Ukrainian artists. All funds raised will be donated to charitable foundations to support the victims who suffered from war in Ukraine.

There is a line spoken in this video, “Speak up now.”

Speak up now.  It can be hard to do.  This war is not easy to immerse yourself into. Their suffering becomes yours.  There is no reward.

Слава Україні. Героям слава.
Slava Ukraini. Heroyam slava.
Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes.

Click on this image and take a long, close look at every bit of it.
It is a 2021 painting by Ukrainian artist Yuriy Vakulenko.
The painting’s published title is Balance, but the artist’s
YouTube piece on it is titled Rest Movement.
He and a dozen other great artists are represented at this gallery in Kyiv, Ukraine:

CLICK FOR MUCH BETTER FULL SCREEN VIEW.  Painting Balance by Ukrainian artist Yuriy Vakulenko. 2021. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.  See also the artist’s YouTube channel, Thinking Out Loud.

I’ll leave you smiling and maybe even dancing … to celebrate, as this, too, is Ukraine, and what it arouses in you is you.  You are Ukraine when you submit to her art and culture.

To this song, Ukraininans might say, Ura!  And in Puerto Rico, ¡Viva!  You thought “ura” or “oorah” was an American army thing.  It is Ukrainian for hooray!