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Ukrainian bard and the first rescuer in the USSR - about Russian-Ukrainian apartment dwellers during the war, creativity, enemies and friends

Oleg Ryzhenko is a well-known performer of the author's song in Ukraine and abroad, one of the founders of popular bard festivals. In addition, Oleg is the creator of the first Ukrainian Operational and Rescue Service - the forerunner of the former Ministry of Emergency Situations (now the State Service of Ukraine for Emergency Situations / State Emergency Service). For the 9th year, being a professional rescuer, he has been training Ukrainian soldiers, and all this time he continues to engage in author's song.

Photo from the personal archive of Oleg Ryzhenko

In recent years, Oleg has been organizing virtual concerts, and many Russian-speaking performers gather at his venue called Kryivka. The weekly Zoom meetings are attended by both immigrants from Russia and people still living in its territory. Many meeting participants also live in the United States.

According to Oleg, songs and poems, including those performed in Russian, are gratefully listened to by the Ukrainian military. About how war and creativity are connected, and how the soldiers defending their land feel today, Oleg Ryzhenko spoke in an exclusive interview with ForumDaily.

First lifeguard

«Interest in the author's song arose in my childhood, because Vysotsky and Okudzhava always sounded in my house, which my parents listened to on old tape recorders", - recalls the bard.

Back in Soviet times, having returned from the army and settled in Kharkov, Oleg Ryzhenko immediately fell into the bard environment, and soon became one of the founders of the author's song festival "Eshar».

«It was one of the most popular bard song festivals in the Soviet Union, accommodating up to 5 people. "Eskhar" is held annually until now", - says Oleg.

Oleg Ryzhenko admits that for several years he moved away from the organization of festivals a little, devoting his life to a new brainchild - the creation of the first non-state rescue service in the USSR. It all started with the fact that Oleg and his friends often went to the mountains, and on a volunteer basis they began to work in the mountain rescue service. After the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, volunteers went there and spent several months clearing the rubble and helping the victims. And so the idea of ​​​​creating our own organization involved in rescuing people in emergency situations arose.

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«The Kharkiv operational and rescue service was created long before the Ministry of Emergency Situations appeared, and dealt with all types of emergencies. The fact is that in the Soviet Union there was no single service of this type. There were only departmental services to eliminate the consequences of an emergency: separately in the subway, on the railway, in the mountains, and so on. If, for example, a plane crashed somewhere, destroying an ammonia warehouse, and this caused infection over a large area, there was no one to deal with such a problem", - explains Oleg Ryzhenko.

After the emergence of the Kharkov Operational Rescue Service, the State Committee for Emergency Situations of the USSR appeared, during the creation of which Oleg and his colleagues were involved as consultants. The rescuer had to spend another three years in Moscow helping to organize the work of the newly created department.

«Interestingly, before the creation of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, our Kharkov service had branches throughout the Soviet Union, including Moscow", - recalls Oleg.

Photo from the personal archive of Oleg Ryzhenko

The first "watersheds"

Despite being very busy, Oleg Ryzhenko did not part with the guitar all these years. Over time, he again began to come to Eshar, but already as a guest. It would seem that the creative environment was as non-politicized as possible, but the performer notes: disagreements between the participants began to appear already in 2004, with the orange revolution in Kyiv.

«Even then, the difference of views affected relationships in families, with friends and relatives. People with pro-Putin or pro-Soviet views, regardless of whether they were from Russia or Ukraine, were not kicked out of the festivals. But they themselves felt uncomfortable on our sites", - says Oleg.

Even stronger polarization made itself felt in 2013-2014, during the Maidan, and the final division occurred in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbass. Nevertheless, Oleg Ryzhenko notes that many Russians remained at the face-to-face and virtual Ukrainian festivals, and not only from among immigrants, but also from Russia itself.

«Many people understand that what Kremlin propaganda says is nonsense. Ukrainians were just fighting for their freedom, and it was Russia that started the war. Simply put, it was no longer possible to sit on two chairs in 2014, and everyone had to make a choice. Over the past 8 years, people have been very clearly divided, and in our circle there are no longer those who could support the invasion that took place this year", explains the bard.

Nevertheless, Oleg Ryzhenko admits that some of the authors and performers "break away" from the general circle even today. Since the beginning of the pandemic, meetings have been held weekly in a virtual format, and have been preserved in this form until now. It was then that they received the name "Kryivka". Even people who still live in Russia regularly participate in home concerts. At the same time, some participants living abroad stopped attending virtual meetings – as Oleg explains, not out of ideological support for the war, but out of fear of being in the company of people who are clearly pro-Ukrainian. Poems in Ukrainian, works about the war and songs in which Russian occupiers are spoken about, to put it mildly, are unflattering, are regularly heard at Kryivka.

Songs for soldiers

At the same time, for Oleg Ryzhenko, the war could not pass by even in 2014. A former lifeguard, retired colonel of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, he began to train the Ukrainian military and continues to do so for the 9th year in a row. At the same time, his “wards” are happy to watch records of virtual meetings of “Kryivka”.

«They already knew that I sing. Sometimes they asked me to play the guitar in the evenings. I have always posted recordings of our evenings on social networks, and since so many military men are added to me as friends, they automatically see all these videos. The guys themselves began to tell me that they listen to our songs”, Oleg admits.

Even after the start of the full-scale invasion of Russia, meetings did not stop: first they were held via Skype, and then in the Zoom format.

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«To be honest, now Ukrainian society has a bad attitude towards all Russians - this is a natural consequence of the war. But it is easier with the military in this regard. They know only too well who their enemy really is, as they face him daily on the battlefield. The people who came to kill us with weapons cannot be confused with anyone. Therefore, the military is perfectly capable of distinguishing enemies from friends, and does not pay attention to language or citizenship. When they have a connection, they are happy to download recordings of our homemade concerts and then ask me to tell more about this or that artist", - shares Oleg.

According to him, the Ukrainian military is very fond of Ali Khaitlina's poems and often cry when he reads them aloud at evening gatherings.

«The military sees the world as it is, without a touch of propaganda or politics. Starting in 2014, along with the purchase of body armor, thermal imagers and other equipment, over the years I have sent about 800 kilograms of books to the front. When the guys have a minute, they gratefully read them and pass them on to each other. Libraries are even on the front line”, the former rescuer assures.

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