By Jueseppi B.
Why did Michelle Obama give a Ukrainian pop star the Women of Courage award?
BY MASUMA AHUJA
On Tuesday morning, first lady Michelle Obama and Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom presented 10 women from around the world the Secretary of State’s Women of Courage award. They include a pioneer of the human rights movement in Tajikistan, a prominent leader in the field of maternal health and … a pop music star who won Eurovision in 2004?
These women are being recognized for their “exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.”
So how does a pop star from Ukraine make the list?
Ruslana Lyzhychko — her fans call her Ruslana, first name only, like Madonna — rose to fame when she won the Eurovision competition for her performance of the song “Wild Dances.” For the uninitiated, Eurovision is a “song contest” between representative musicians and bands from European countries. Winners include many well-known names including ABBA and Celine Dion, but the competition is best-known for its often over-the-top and cheesy music. It’s been described as “kitschy, genre-bending, makes no sense” and even “a trainwreck dry ice, pleather, men in boxes, operatic vampires and unfortunate babydoll outfits“
These days, Ruslana sings with the protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square.
She took the streets during the November protests and quickly became a voice of the protesters. Ruslana spent long, cold nights onstage, often at the iconic blue piano, singing and rallying crowds as riot police rounded in. Her longest performances on the protests stage – singing her own songs and the national anthem – lasted up to 10 hours.
“I think of myself as a volunteer … showing people that we need to be here because there is no other way,” she said to Reuters in December. “Russia is our past, Europe must be our future,” she explained.
Even though Ruslana continues to be best known for her music, this isn’t the pop star’s first foray into politics. Her career in activism and humanitarian work began long before the protests started in 2013. She was an active participant in the 2004 Orange Revolution, became the first ever UNICEF National Ambassador in Ukraine in 2005, was speaking out for renewable energy in 2008 and now acts as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Ruslana Lyzhychko (Ukrainian: Руслана Лижичко, Ruslana Lyžyčko; born on 24 May 1973), known mononymously as Ruslana, is a World Music Award and Eurovision Song Contest winning artist, holding the title of People’s Artist of Ukraine. She is also a former MP serving as deputy in the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) for the Our Ukraine Party. Ruslana is the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Ukraine. She is recognized as the most successful Ukrainian female solo artist internationally and was included in the top 10 most influential women of 2013 by the Forbes magazine. The U.S. Secretary of State honored her with the Woman of Courage Award in March 2014.
Ukrainian Pop Singer Ruslana Lyzhychko Receives Woman Of Courage Award
Published on Mar 4, 2014
Ukrainian pop singer Ruslana Lyzhychko received the International Women of Courage award at a ceremony in Washington on Tuesday (March 4) for her commitment to non-violence and national unity in the face of government corruption.
“Ruslana joined the demonstrations, spending her days on streets and her nights sleeping in cold tents, and every evening, in the face of impending police attacks and death threats, she performed the Ukrainian national anthem for the other demonstrators to reinforce the promise of a diverse and unified Ukraine,” U.S. Deputy Secretary Of State Heather Higginbottom said during the event at the State Department. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the ceremony.
Russell spoke about how Ruslana sang the Ukrainian national anthem night after night in Kiev, and calmed protesters one December evening, as news of a impending security sweep by Ukrainian riot police spread through the crowd.
“Anyone who was there that night will tell you how her rallying cries steadied the nerves of the protesters, giving them the courage they needed to successfully withstand more than two thousand riot police. They will tell you how crowds cheered as eventually the police retreated from a standoff that was intense, but ultimately peaceful. And, they will tell you how that night will go down in history as one of the EuroMaiden’s movement’s most amazing displays of unity and determination,” Higginbottom added.
The Ukrainian Eurovision song contest winner pushed her voice to the limit belting out songs nightly to keep up the morale of protesters camped out a snowy Kiev square, emerging as an unlikely figurehead of movement to oust President Viktor Yanukovich.
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award honors women who have showed courage to advocate human rights, equality and social progress, according to the State Department website.
She is a singer, songwriter, producer, musical conductor, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, voice actress and social activist. She writes, composes and produces her own songs and music videos. Since 28 December 1995 she has been married to Oleksandr Ksenofontov, a Ukrainian record producer. Together they have run the company Luxen Studio since 1993, producing radio and film trailers.
Ruslana was the first artist coming out from the former Soviet Union to officially receive a platinum disc, her Dyki tantsi album selling more than 170,000 copies in the first 100 days after its release, even without a supporting tour. This album is the best selling Ukrainian album to date, together with its English version, more than 1,000,000 copies being sold solely in Ukraine.
She won the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest with the song Wild Dances receiving 280 points, which at that time was a record of points. Following her victory, she rose to fame in Europe and became one of the biggest pop stars from the Eastern part of the continent. Her winning songWild Dances has dominated the European charts for 97 weeks peaking at number one in Belgiumfor 10 consecutive weeks. Later that year, she received a World Music Award in Las Vegas.
Also in 2004, she was among the top 15 performers in a ranking conducted in Belgium with her singles “Wild Dances” and “Dance with the Wolves“. Ruslana was named the most popular person in Belgium, the sexiest girl in Greece, the most influential public person in Ukraine and was the first foreigner who received the award of the Federation of Journalists in Turkey.
In 2006, her song “Wild Dances” has been named the best ever Eurovision winning song by a survey arranged by the German public television broadcaster ARD. During the television program Grand Prix Hitliste, Wild Dances was presented as the winner, ahead of famous songs, such as Waterloo and Germany’s only winner (at the time), Ein Bißchen Frieden, which finished sixth and twelfth, respectively. The programme was viewed by a television audience of approximately six million people in Germany.
In 2008, she was elected by Rockstar Games to play ‘DJ Ruslana’ in the open world action-adventure video game Grand Theft Auto IV. The Ukrainian version of her song Wild Dances has been featured on the soundtrack of the game and became one of the most popular tunes among the fans. Grand Theft Auto IV broke the Guinness World Records for “Highest grossing video game in 24 hours” and “Highest Revenue Generated by an Entertainment Product in 24 Hours”. It sold 3.6 million copies on day one, which equalled roughly $310 million in revenue. Also in 2008, she signed a major contract with Warner Music for the worldwide release of her second international album called Wild Energy.
In 2009, she was invited to attend the 6th Asia Song Festival which took place in Seoul, Korea. Even if she was supposed to receive only an award for her contribution to the cultural exchange between Ukraine and Asia in music, in the end she also won the main award of the festival, receiving the golden statue for the best artist of the Asia Song Festival 2009.
In 2011, her song Wild Dances has been used by the American gymnast Jordyn Wieber as the soundtrack for her floor exercise. Wieber eventually became the 2011 World Women’s All-Around Champion and won the golden medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics performing her floor exercise on Ruslana’s song.
THE BEST NATIONAL ANTHEM OF UKRAINE, RUSLANA, LIGHTS, 11.12.2013 KIEV, THE INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
2004: Orange Revolution
In autumn 2004 Ruslana actively supported the democratic processes in Ukraine known as the Orange Revolution, to which her song “Dance with the Wolves” was devoted. She declared her support for Viktor Yushchenko during the disputed Ukrainian presidential elections. She became one of the prominent figures that addressed the mass crowds rallying in support of Yushchenko’s demand that his original defeat be declared fraudulent. From spring 2006 to summer 2007 she was a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament for the party Our Ukraine.
Due to political reasons the music video supporting her second single extracted from the Wild Dances album, Dance with the Wolves was censored in Russia as it contains fragments showing Ruslana in the Independence Square.
In December 2012 Ruslana launched the human rights campaign Не мовчи (Don’t keep silent) which challenges the juridical system of Ukraine. In particular she supports the case of Dmytro and Sergiy Pavlichenko who claim to have been forced to admit a murder they have not committed. The father and son were convicted of killing a judge of a district court in Kyiv and sentenced to life imprisonment and 13 years in prison respectively. The verdict was widely criticized mainly by football fans. Ruslana dedicated her song and video Це – Ей-форі-Я (This is Euphoria) to the case of the Pavlichenkos who according to her are victims of a misjudgement.
In November 2013, she was one of the leading figures of Euromaidan which were a series of protests in Ukraine that began on November 22, 2013, when Ukrainian citizens started spontaneous protests in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev. On the previous day, on November 21, 2013, the Ukrainian government suspended preparations for signing an Association Agreementwith the European Union.
She was one of the leading figures of the protests. Since the second week of protest she has been on the stage on Kiev‘s Maidan Nezalezhnosti virtually all night (up to ten hours a night). In an 11 December interview with The Daily Beast she explained her role in the opposition as “charging Maidan with freedom-loving energy” and insisted she “hated” politics. And has denied supporting any single leader. Ruslana also stated “if needed, I will sing every night in Maidan until next presidential election in 2015”. Two make-up artists were at her disposal during the protest.
As the protest leader, Ruslana noted the presence of paid provocateurs who have instigated fights in the otherwise peaceful protests.
Her involvement in the pro-European movement from Kiev has been featured on many international publications, Ruslana being regarded as a true heroine of Ukraine. While the German press regarded her as ‘Kiev’s queen of the night’, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo compared her to Jeanne d’Arc. Due to her active involvement in the EuroMaidan, Ruslana has been compared to Katniss Everdeen, the main heroine of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Due to active role in the protests, she was included in the top 10 most successful women of 2013 by the Forbes magazine. Also, she was named ‘person of the year’ by the Business Ukraine magazine.
In order to demand from the EU support for the EuroMaidan revolution Ruslana met in Brussels with key EU officials including José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Henri Malosse, President of theEuropean Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in January 2014. After her speech at the 495th Plenary Session a resolution was adopted by the EESC which supports the Ukrainian civil society and its democratic rights.
Ruslana was appointed Good Will Ambassador of Ukraine by the UNICEF and combats trafficking in human beings. She released two video clips which aim to make potential victims aware of the dangers of human trafficking. In February 2008 Ruslana performed at an anti-human trafficking event in Vienna, Austria, organized by UN.GIFT (The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) in front of 117 international delegations. Her song Not for Sale became the anthem of the anti-trafficking campaign.
Within the frames of the Eurovision Song Contest 2005 in Kiev she gave a charity concert for children suffering from the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy. For another charity project Ruslana joined forces with German rock star Peter Maffay. In April/May 2007 they went together with artists from 14 countries on a four weeks tour through Germany. The funds gathered benefited children in need.
With her project Wild Energy Ruslana supports the use of renewable energy. She regards the energy of the sun, the water and the wind as an energy independence. The project gradually developed into this bigger meaning. Ruslana wants to make people aware of the dangers of global climate change.
After large regions in Western Ukraine were hit by a flood in July 2008 Ruslana set up the co-ordinating and relief centre Carpathians. Flood. SOS! 2008. The aim of the centre is to create a database of the people in need, to provide emergency humanitarian help and to collect and distribute donations both from the public and from other Ukrainian artists and sportsmen to support the victims of the flood.
Ruslana speaking during a press conference in
Kiev, Ukraine in May 2012
|Native name||Руслана Лижичко|
|Birth name||Ruslana Stepanivna Lyzhychko
(Руслана Степанівна Лижичко)
|Also known as||Ruslana (Руслана)|
|Born||24 May 1973
Lviv, Ukrainian SSR
|Occupations||Singer, dancer, producer, composer,
conductor, pianist, lyricst, voice actress,
former politician, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, guitar, drums, keyboards,
|Labels||EMI, Warner Music Group|
|Associated acts||T-Pain, Missy Elliott, Goran Bregović,|
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