Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called Glastonbury the “greatest concentration of freedom” in the world as he urged festivalgoers to put pressure on politicians to end the war in Ukraine.
Addressing crowds in a video message played on screens at the Other stage on Friday morning, the Ukrainian president said the Covid pandemic had “put on hold the lives of millions of people around the world but has not broken them”.
To cheers from the crowd, he said: “We in Ukraine would also like to live the life as we used to and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer. But we cannot do that because the most terrible has happened – Russia has stolen our peace.”
Zelenskiy said Ukraine would “not let Russia’s war break us”, and he wanted to stop the invasion before it ruined people’s lives in other countries of Europe, and in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“They are all under threat now. That is why I turn to you for support. Glastonbury is the greatest concentration of freedom these days and I ask you to share this feeling with everyone whose freedom is under attack,” he said.
“Spread the truth about Russia’s war; help Ukrainians who are forced to flee their homes because of the war; find our United24 charity platform and put pressure on all the politicians you know to help restore peace in Ukraine.”
He said time was priceless and “every day is measured in human lives. The more people join us in defending freedom and truth, the sooner Russia’s war against Ukraine will end. Prove that freedom always wins! Slava Ukraine.”
The message was played before a stage-opening set by the Libertines, as a couple of Ukrainian flags were waved among the thousands who had gathered. Later on, the Libertines singer Pete Doherty started a chant of “Volodymyr Zelenskiy”, with the crowd joining in and cheering.
Kevin Cullen, who was in the crowd, said it was a great start to the weekend “because the festival is supporting Ukraine and there are signs of that all over the site. The conflict has been going on for a while now and we need to keep up the momentum of support.”
James Howell said: “It was really moving hearing him speak – a hard act to follow for the Libertines, for sure. It’s massively important that we keep thinking about Ukraine. Political action starts from the ground up.”
A third crowd member, Sharon Hardwick, said: “His address was amazing – a hell of a lot of people will hear those words, so it was a good way of reminding the people of Britain that they never know what tomorrow holds. Facts matter.”
This year’s festival, which marks the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury, is holding a number of events in solidarity with Ukraine, including a panel discussion in the Left Field tent on Friday with the Guardian and Observer journalists John Harris and Emma Graham-Harrison, the latter having reported from Ukraine in recent months.
Kalush Orchestra, the Ukrainian group that triumphed at the 2022 Eurovision song contest, will perform at the festival for their first UK concert, as will Ukraine’s 2021 Eurovision entrants, Go_A, who finished in fifth place overall and second in the public vote.
Kalush Orchestra’s Oleh Psiuk, who runs an organisation that provides aid to refugees, said it was “one of the high points” of the group’s career. “We would like to show our Ukrainian culture to the best extent,” he said.
The performance on Glastonbury’s Truth stage in the early hours of Saturday morning will be particularly poignant because one of the band’s founders, Daniil Chernov, is serving with the country’s territorial defence forces based outside Kyiv.
Psiuk said he was very worried for his bandmate and the rest of the country as Russia’s invasion continues. “It’s very difficult and distressing because all of our friends and relatives are in Ukraine. It’s like playing Russian roulette because you never know when a missile might strike the home of your friends or family.”
Go_A’s lead vocalist, Kateryna Pavlenko, said performing at Glastonbury was the group’s “biggest dream come true” and an honour. “I dreamed of getting to this festival as a spectator. And I didn’t even think that we would ever be invited to perform there,” she said.
The singer spoke about the importance of representation at the festival. “As President Zelenskiy said during his Grammy speech: ‘Fill the silence with music.’ Everybody should support Ukraine in any way they can, but not silence.”
Just raising the Ukrainian flag on stage during a performance in another country was already an important manifesto, Pavlenko said. “Also with our concerts we draw attention to our unique Ukrainian culture and language. We are doing everything to break the Russian information blockade of Europe and declare that Ukraine is not Russia, and [that] the Ukrainian people with its ancient national culture have the right to a separate cultural and political existence.”
Diana Olifirova, a Ukrainian cinematographer, told the Left Field crowd that it felt as if the war would never end. “It’s just constant,” she said. “You feel happy that you survived, that your family is safe, but look at other people’s destroyed lives and it’s very up and down. My friend’s house has been completely destroyed.”