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Ruslana Lyzhychko received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Woman of Courage Award from Michelle Obama. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Ruslana Lyzhychko received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Woman of Courage Award from Michelle Obama. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Ukraine’s Ruslana, the voice of the people Add to ...

Ruslana Lyzhychko – known just as Ruslana to her fans – is one of the most famous pop stars in Ukraine. But rather than diamonds and gold chains draped around her neck, a Ukrainian flag hangs like a scarf. The Ukrainian pop singer and activist was a leader in this past winter’s Maidan protests in Kiev, where she sang to demonstrators nightly in -25 degree weather.

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This year, she received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Woman of Courage Award from Michelle Obama, and the Atlantic Council’s 2014 Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award.

Ms. Lyzhychko was in the country for Canada’s National Ukrainian festival, where she performed on the weekend.

She spoke to The Globe and Mail with the assistance an interpreter.

What’s the situation like now in Ukraine?

It looks very dangerous, more dangerous than yesterday. Every day, more dangerous, more dangerous, more dangerous.

The remnants of the previous regime are still acting very much in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s interests. It’s impossible to just change them overnight because they have significant power in the regions. There’s still a significant conflict between the people and the regional governments, which are still controlled by those that were part of the [former Ukrainian president Viktor] Yanukovych clan. A major strategy of Putin is to provoke a civil war in Ukraine at all costs. Right across the country, there are agents working creating panic, confusion, fear among the population on all kinds of levels.

People call you the Voice of the Revolution. Do you feel that you are?

Yes. I lost twice my voice – I work all the time, I speak all the time, I sing all the time. When I was on the Maidan, I wanted to give people an opportunity to express themselves through myself. I asked people to send me notes, messages, what they want heard through the microphone. I put a box out and within half an hour it was full. I would read these all night into the morning, these notes from people. That is why people call me “Ruslana, our voice.”

Has your activism changed the way you perform and the kind of music you create?

I cancelled a lot of performances. A lot.

If I have any performance now, I perform in the Eastern part of Ukraine, for example, and a lot of people ask me, “Sing the national anthem,” and “We want to pray together, and “We want to know the information from you, Ruslana, tell us the best way we can do.” It’s interactive all the time with the audience. [I say] repeat after me, “All Ukrainians stay together,” and people repeat, “All Ukrainians stay together.” People like that.

What does the future hold for Ukraine?

Ukraine will never stop Putin, never stop Russia. We need the really big power countries like Canada, like the USA, like the United Kingdom to stop this aggression.

For me, Canada is the first country which shows us, Ukrainians and people around the world, a strong position. My request: Show the position stronger. I ask politicians here, look for the best way to organize a global united position.

Nobody has any idea for the future. We ask for military equipment, for humanitarian aid, and [make] Ukraine stronger.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Editor's note: Viktor Yanukovych is the former president of Ukraine. An earlier version of this story identified him as the former prime minister.

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