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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a pretaped speech during the 2022 Grammys on Sunday night amid his country’s war with Russia.
The video introduced John Legend’s performance of “Free” as part of a special tribute to Ukraine, which has faced an ongoing humanitarian crisis since Russia’s invasion in early March. Host Trevor Noah introduced the special performance.
Even in the darkest times, music has the power to lift spirits and give you hope for a brighter tomorrow,” Noah said. “There’s nobody who could use a little hope right now more than the people of Ukraine.”
In Zelensky’s video, he described the current conditions of war, including the ongoing bombings and the “silence” that’s resulted, before encouraging attendees and viewers to “fill the silence with your music!”
“The war. What is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people. Our children draw swooping rockets, not shooting stars. Over 400 children have been injured and 153 children died. And we’ll never see them drawing. Our parents are happy to wake up in the morning. In bomb shelters, but alive. Our loved ones don’t know if we will be together again. The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence,” he said. “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals, even to those who can’t hear them. But the music will break through anyway.”
He continued, “We defend our freedom. To live. To love. To sound. On our land, we are fighting Russia which brings horrible silence with its bombs. The dead silence. Fill the silence with your music! Fill it today to tell our story. Tell the truth about this war on your social networks, on TV. Support us in any way you can. Any — but not silence. And then peace will come. To all our cities the war is destroying. Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Volnovakha, Mariupol and others. They are legends already. But I have a dream of them living. And free. Free like you on the Grammy stage.”
Legend’s performance featured a chorus and a backdrop of images from the crisis in Ukraine, as well as a segment from Lyuba Yakimchuk, a poet, playwright and screenwriter who grew up in the contested Donbas region of Ukraine.
In a take on The Lord’s Prayer, Yakimchuk described “parents whose house is in the line of fire and who won’t abandon it like a tomb,” and said of our daily bread, “give to the hungry.” “And forgive us our destroyed cities even though we do not forgive for them our enemies,” she continued. “Shoot and protect my husband, my parents, my child and my motherland.”
Ahead of the Sunday night ceremony at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the Recording Academy announced it had teamed with Global Citizen and the Stand Up for Ukraine campaign for a special segment during the live telecast. Aimed at raising awareness of the ongoing displacement of Ukrainians due to Russia’s military attacks, as well as refugees in other regions including Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan, the segment offered viewers ways to take action as well as contribute to the global and ongoing “Stand Up For Ukraine” campaign.
“We are heartbroken by the situation in Ukraine, yet still moved by the resilient spirit on display there every day,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said in a statement on Friday. “We hope the segment inspires our worldwide audience to get involved to support these critical humanitarian efforts.”
Zelensky’s appearance at the 2022 Grammys comes after the Oscars, where co-host Amy Schumer said that she had attempted to have the Ukrainian leader appear virtually.
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