Eurovision winner sings for revolution in Ukraine

Every night on Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine's Eurovision Song Contest winning pop star Ruslana leads the crowd in an a cappella version of the Ukrainian national anthem, hand on heart.

In popular protests that have suffered from the lack of a charismatic political leader, the petite, powerfully-voiced singer has become a kind of talisman for the demonstrators, chatting and singing on stage through long, cold nights.

When riot police severely beat students on November 30 in the incident that profoundly shocked Ukrainians, Ruslana encouraged them to take shelter in a nearby cathedral and worked hard to provide them with food and medicine.

A couple of days later, she called for the government's dismissal from the stage, saying: "I need revolution!"

Somewhat melodramatically, on December 5 she threatened self-immolation "if there are no changes."

For Ruslana, whose full name is Ruslana Lyzhychko, this is not a new role. During the Orange Revolution of 2004, she also took to the square, becoming one of the symbols of the revolution, along with a Ukrainian rock singer, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk of group Okean Elzy.

After winning Eurovision in 2004 with the high-energy song "Wild Dances", she brought the cheesy but wildly popular contest to Kiev in 2005.

It was a first for Ukraine that saw it open up for Western visitors as never before, reflecting the mood of optimism before the revolution's leaders, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, bitterly fell out.

In 2006, Ruslana became an MP for Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, but gave up politics shortly afterwards.

On Friday morning, Ruslana seemed effervescent on stage, reading out news headlines on her phone, smiling at the audience and telling them: "I wish everyone a good mood today."

Dressed in jeans and a ribbed sweater with a ribbon in the Ukrainian flag colours round her neck, she had spent the whole night on stage, sharing it with everyone from rock musicians to a choir of priests singing folk songs at 3:00am.

Stepping off stage, she showed her fatigue, the Ukrainian flag painted on her cheek flaking.

'I'm a soldier'

Lying back in a seat in the protest movement's press centre -- a chaotic trade union office -- she half-closed her eyes when asked about her gruelling routine.

"It's possible. I'm a soldier," she said, laughing huskily.

"It's not a problem. The problem is our future. I never think about me. I'm just thinking about today, tomorrow and after tomorrow."

Like everyone in the crowd, she is an ardent foe of President Viktor Yanukovych.

"He has already died as a politician, he is a political corpse," she said, raising a victory sign.

"It's our problem. We don't have one leader. We're just looking for one," she said, chuckling.

"He will be born soon," she added ironically.

One of the movement's political leaders, former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, is "my big friend -- as a boxer, as a good man," she acknowledged, but denied supporting any single leader.

"We support the Maidan," she said, using the local name of the square which has become shorthand for the protest as a whole.

Whenever Ruslana sings the national anthem on stage, the audience sings along, waving lighted cell phones as if they were at rock concert, to its lyrics: "We will lay down our souls and our bodies for freedom."

One protester said he appreciated that Ruslana turned out for the protest despite being cushioned by wealth.

"She has everything. She is prosperous. What we see here is that a lot of people have something to lose: they have money or some kind of business," said Yevgeniy, a cafe owner.