Ukraine's top performers forced to grapple war and music

Slogans of solidarity with Ukraine have been spray-painted on walls, hung from banners and sung on stages across the world. 

Little has done more to capture the visceral emotion of Ukrainians grappling with war, than music.

When many of the country's top musicians left the studio for the frontline, they continued to produce and share their art.

Antytila is one of the biggest musical acts in Ukraine. After Russia's invasion in February, the band signed up for the Territorial Defence and joined war efforts in Irpin, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Borodyanka.

While serving as a medic in Borodyanka, Antytila frontman Taras Topolia wrote the lyrics for his verse on the collaborative song with Ed Sheeran, 2Step.

Taras' bandmates filmed him on the frontline for the music video but say they only had 20 minutes before they had to evacuate to avoid being targeted by enemy forces. A drastic shift from their former lives as regional rock stars.

"I can say frankly that it is not so easy, but we must do it. We must live this dual life. Even now we are making our rehearsals, before we were making our military duties," says 35-year-old Taras from the band's studio in Kyiv.

"We are fathers and husbands. We have some dreams, we had some plans and the war changed everything."

In May, they performed a rendition of BB King's Stand by Me - remixed to "Stand by Ukraine" - in military fatigues with Bono. Three months later, they were given permission by the head of the Ukrainian military to leave and help promote culture through their art.

Now, they are back home in Kyiv and rehearsing 2Step in the studio to prepare for a concert in London on 26 February. Their normal lives are still far from restored - Taras' family are still in the US for their safety, and the family of his bandmate and keyboard player Serhii Vusuk are in Wales.

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"Of course it is psychologically very hard because relationships grow and develop when you speak with each other and when you touch each other. When you hug your wife and your kids, make jokes and have conversations with them," says Taras.

"This war separated a lot of families."

Antytila are not alone. One of the oldest hip-hop groups in the country TNMK spent the early days of the war in the National Guard in Kharkiv. Founding member Oleksandr "Fozzi" Sydorenko's mother is still there now.

"In Kharkiv, until recently, there were three nights when there was no shelling at the beginning of the war. Of course, I follow and write and it happens that during the day there is no connection with her and the connection drops," he says.

Instead of their usual New Years Eve performance, Fozzi will travel to Kharkiv to be with his mother. But first, he and his bandmate Oleh Mykhailyuta "Fahot" are putting the finishing touches to the music video of their new single.

It's an informational animation that explains the dangers of mines and shelling to young people. A hazard that has been fatally felt far too often.

"Many have already died. My friend's brother, who was acting in our joint works, died yesterday," says Fahot.

"Ukrainians are going to defend themselves, to defend their homes, their families and they are dying. The best, the bravest, the most powerful and the most open will die."