As Ukraine Rebuilds Its Identity, Folk Songs Are the New Cool

At first sight, it looked like a typical party in a nightclub. It was mid-March in central Kyiv and a hundred or so people were wiggling on the dance floor of V’YAVA, one of the Ukrainian capital’s most popular live music venues. The hall was dark, lit only by bright blue and red spotlights. Bartenders were busy pouring gin and tonics.

But the lineup that night, in a concert hall that typically hosts pop artists and rappers, was unexpected: four Ukrainian folk singers, filling the room with their high-pitched voices and polyphonic choruses, accompanied by a D.J. spinning techno beats — all to a cheering crowd.

These days, Ukrainian folk music “is becoming something cool,” said Stepan Andrushchenko, one of the singers from Shchuka Ryba, the band onstage that night. “A very cool thing.”

More than two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, folk music is enjoying a surge of popularity in the war-torn nation. Faced with Moscow’s efforts to erase Ukrainian culture, people have embraced traditional songs as a way to reconnect with their past and affirm their identity.

“It’s like a defensive measure,” said Viktor Perfetsky, 22, who started traditional singing classes after the war broke out. “If we don’t know who we are, the Russians will come and force us to be what they want us to be.”