When Russia invaded, the lead singer of one of Ukraine’s biggest pop-rock bands swapped his mic for fatigues and headed to the front lines as a battlefield medic.
Singer Taras Topolia has now taken on an additional role, joining forces with pop star Ed Sheeran to raise relief funds for Ukraine.
Mr. Sheeran and Mr. Topolia’s band Antytila this week released a video remake of Mr. Sheeran’s 2021 hit “2Step,” featuring Mr. Topolia rapping about his personal experience in the war.
“The sirens interrupted our sleep,” Mr. Topolia sings in Ukrainian. “Grabbed in two suitcases everything that is the past, then go! Go!”
“My friends and I became soldiers and joined the Territorial Defense Forces the first day of the war,” Mr. Topolia, 34 years old, said by video chat from outside Kharkiv, where his 130th Battalion is now stationed. “Ukraine will get victory .”
The music video was recorded in cities where the battle has 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 battle positions of his battalion in northeast Ukraine, he said, in part using a GoPro.
“The positions are always under fire,” he said. “It is very dangerous if you stop for more than 10 minutes there because Russian drones and snipers are at work.”
For the sound recording, Mr. Topolia said his Kyiv studio was inaccessible as Russia began attacking the capital on Feb. 24, but the band found a studio in nearby Hostomel. He said the crew came under Russian fire when they were shooting parts of the video in Kharkiv.
Mr. Sheeran, who wasn’t available for comment, had filmed the original “2Step” video in Kyiv before the war began. In that video version, Mr. Sheeran posted a note that says, “I stand with Ukraine.”
The collaboration with Mr. Sheeran began after Antytila offered to play this year at a Ukraine benefit concert in Birmingham, UK, where Mr. Sheeran was also performing. The concert organizers rejected Antytila’s offer due to their member’s links with Ukraine’s military, Mr. Topolia said.
But later, Mr. Sheeran’s representatives contacted him to propose a collaboration.
The video has garnered more than 10 million streams since it went live on Monday, according to a representative of Mr. Topolia. Funds raised from Youtube video royalties will be sent to Music Saves UA, a music trade organization in Ukraine that has refocused its efforts to help refugees during the war, according to a statement from Mr. Sheeran. Music Saves couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Topolia said he became a medic in the current conflict after working in that role during Russia’s 2014 invasion in Ukraine’s Donbas region. He said he has aided many wounded soldiers in the current conflict and prepared them for possible chemical attack in the use of gas masks and medicinal antidotes such as atropine.
In Ukraine, Antytila draws stadium crowds with thousands of people. When on tour in other European countries and in the US, the crowds are far more modest. The band, for example, played in New York at the 450-person capacity Cutting Room in 2018.
Were Messrs. Sheeran and Topolia known to each other before the conflict? “I knew of him, of course; his songs are very famous in Ukraine. But I don’t think he knew who I was.”