Fresh off his Oscar win, actor and musician Jared Leto has spent the last two days in Kiev, Ukraine, performing with his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars and expressing support for the pro-Western independence movement there.
“I know it may be difficult but there’s no price too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself,” Leto told a cheering crowd at the band’s show Wednesday at Kiev’s Sports Palace.
Leto mentioned that other American bands had cancelled their Ukraine appearances which, if honored, would have brought them into the heart of an international struggle between protesters who toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian government and a Russian president who wants to bring the former Soviet state back into his orbit.
“I understand other bands have cancelled their shows but there was no f—king way” he was going to follow suit, Leto said.
But Leto and his group are not the only bands from either side of the Atlantic to have used their stardom to take a stand on the conflict.
Eugene Hütz, the Ukrainian-born frontman of the New York-based, self-described “gypsy punk” band Gogol Bordello, posted a picture on the group’s website of a new sticker on his guitar, which he said translated to “Ukraine, not an outskirt but a centre.”
He explained the meaning of the slogan, praising the protesters who gathered in Kiev’s Maidan Square to voice their opposition to then-president Viktor Yaunkovich, who supported closer ties with Russia.
“Yes, paradoxically, ‘Ukraine,’ which is historically and geographically the origin of Russia (see Kievan Rus state), literally means ‘far corner, or an outskirt.’ This confusion perhaps will get straightened out now as people of Ukraine r putting themselves in the avanguarde [sic] of positive political consciousness,” he wrote.
“Is there even a one person who has not been impressed with such a tremendous peaceful actions of Kiev Maidan people and their delicate organization!” he added.
Hütz’s band was supposed to play Moscow on March 15, but the band said at the beginning of the month that they’d have to cancel all shows until April because DJ and percussionist Pedro Erazo broke his arm.
Another band who won’t be playing Russia any time soon is the popular Ukrainian rock group Okean Elzy, who performed in December in the Maidan.
According to the Moscow Times, a show they planned for late March was cancelled by Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg deputy of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, who had previously sued the promoter of Madonna and Lady Gaga for the pop stars’ “promotion of homosexuality.”
Some American groups are, as Leto said, cancelling or postponing their appearances in the region, but perhaps more out of safety concerns than a desire to make a political statement.
Depeche Mode cancelled a Feb. 26 show in Kiev, citing on its website “the current civil unrest and instability in Kiev and the whole of Ukraine.”
“The band’s thoughts are with the Ukrainians during this challenging period and they sincerely look forward to the next time they can perform for the fans in Kiev and Ukraine,” the statement continued.
Aerosmith was supposed to play Kiev on May 21, but cited logistical reasons for moving the date to July.
But a Greek metal band, Rotting Christ, told fans over social media that it would honor its commitments in Kiev and Kharkiv, telling fans on its Facebook page: “We know that times are currently hard in your land but as a band we are beholden to the Fighting Spirit of Metal Music and we come to your land shouting: MUSIC UNITE AND NOT DIVIDE PEOPLE.”