Vladimir Kotliarov, the frontman of the Russian punk band Pornofilmy, left Russia ten days after the start of the offensive against Ukraine, "disgusted". The singer Shaman, on the contrary, stayed and filled the room with his patriotic lyrics. Like these two singers, this conflict has fractured the Russian musical world, with artists who go into exile and denounce the Kremlin's policies on stage, while others, on the contrary, sing to the glory of the army.
Vladimir Kotliarov, from Dubna, a small town north of Moscow, recalls being "disgusted by the society which barely reacted" after Vladimir Putin's decision to send Russian troops to Ukraine in February 2022 "I understood that I would find it difficult to live among such indifferent people," he told AFP, on the sidelines of a mid-May concert of his group in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. . The singer, who now lives in Georgia, in Tbilisi, says that the conflict plunged him into "a black hole, a void": "I couldn't believe it, resign myself. Months passed, I lived in expectation but nothing changed, it was horrible. "I felt like everything we did before no longer made sense because it couldn't stop the war," Vladimir Kotliarov continued. After several months without writing, he says the inspiration has returned. His group, which was already known for its texts sharply criticizing the authorities in Russia, took a stand against the offensive in Ukraine and multiplied the concerts of "benefits" in favor of Ukrainian refugees.
“Music is a kind of therapy. Maybe for some of our audience, it's also therapy," says the 35-year-old punk rocker. “If it helps people, we have to continue. »
The members of Pornofilmy are not alone in this situation. In the streets of Yerevan, dozens of posters announce concerts by Russian groups or singers who have gone into exile, such as Nogou Svelo and Boris Grebenchtchikov. For many Russians in exile, these artists are a link to their country.
Present at the Pornofilmy concert in the Armenian capital, Alexei Ossine, a 19-year-old computer scientist, said he felt "an influx of strength" by listening to them and the certainty that one day he would return to "build a free and democratic Russia".
“My Russia is in prison. But, believe me, it will pass! », sings Vladimir Kotliarov on stage, taken up in chorus by the public. “The leaders leave, the artists stay. It's a Soviet proverb,” the musician says with a smile.
"I'm happy to see that my favorite group is expressing its position openly, doing it without compromise and without fear," agrees Olga Smirnova, 35, who has lived in Yerevan since the spring of 2022.
The musicians opposed to the conflict and who remain in Russia have the choice between keeping quiet and suffering the wrath of power. Several singers, such as Yuri Shevchuk, have been fined for their criticisms and their concerts have been cancelled. But not all musicians are against the offensive in Ukraine.
In Zelenograd, northwest of Moscow, spectators flock to a concert by pop singer Shaman, the new star of the big "patriotic" concerts organized by the Kremlin. His song I am Russian has been viewed 35 million times on YouTube. "I'm lucky, I'm Russian, against the whole world!" “, hammers the chorus.
Sign of the importance for the power to rely on these artists, Shaman even sang the Russian anthem alongside Vladimir Putin during a concert last September celebrating the annexation claimed by Moscow of occupied territories in Ukraine.
In January, he was performing for Russian soldiers in Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city captured by Moscow after a devastating siege. “I like his songs because they are patriotic. I am a patriot. His songs move me to tears," Yulia Shevchenko, a 23-year-old employee of a public company, told AFP before Shaman's concert in Zelenograd. "This is what we need to unite the country and the nation," adds the young woman, wearing a t-shirt with the inscription "I am Russian".
Tatiana Morozova, a 41-year-old hairdresser, says she supports Shaman in her choice for military intervention in Ukraine: "Forward Russia! We will vanquish ! “, she loose, criticizing the musicians who go into exile, “traitors”. Shaman declined to give an interview to AFP. Just like a dozen other groups supporting the Kremlin's military campaign.