Feminism in the Kalush Orchestra music video “Stefania”

Kalush Orchestra, a Ukrainian folk band, won this year’s Eurovision with their song “Stefania”. The video for this composition, unusual among the gloss and glam aesthetic of the competition, is about war, new Ukrainian femininity, and feminism overall.

“I dedicated this song to my mother. The war began, and this song gained many new senses. Not a single word in the lyrics mentions the war, but many people relate this song to Mother Ukraine. Moreover, our society has started to call it the anthem of our war! But if Stefania is our war anthem now, I would like it to become our victory anthem”, — says Oleh Psiuk, the frontman.

The video was filmed in the cities the Russian “liberators” had destroyed: Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and Borodianka. Some viewers, mainly Russians expressing anti-war sentiments, argue that “cheerful rapping” and dancing are inappropriate in a story about tragic events. This is likely the difference between the Russian and Ukrainian cultures of thinking. The street dance in “Stefania” does not look like dancing on anyone’s grave; it is rather the Ukrainian vitality regrowing out of the ruins. The Ukrainians are happy to have withstood, to have kicked the invaders out of a few more cities. Compare this with how the typical Russians remain gloomy under any circumstances and drag their gloom into every corner. Notice the anguish in their brand new court poetry glorifying the “special operation”; the authors seem to be foreshadowing something bad, understanding that they have chosen the wrong direction.

The women in the video by Kalush Orchestra are the vital power that helps Ukraine carry on. They are volunteers and warriors, rescuing children out of collapsed houses. Ironically, these days a hashtag #краса_для_ЗСУ (beauty for the Ukrainian military forces), endorsing the notorious post-Soviet objectivation of Ukrainian women, has been launched by another woman. While the all-male group had made a body-positive music video. The women in dusty uniforms with faces covered in soil have no resemblance to either the imperial posters of women militarists in makeup, or to the insta-girls eye-shadowing their faces with the infamous Z and the potato-bug ribbon. The heroines of the video are busy with real work, not with recreation of the myth of beauty; beauty is subjective and evanescent, and the saving of lives is something opposite.

Understanding that it is a staged video rather than documentary footage, the viewer of “Stefania” nevertheless sees a reflection of reality, not a poster. This is what the Ukrainian women protecting their Motherland are like: subjects, not idols. The patriarchal concept of a “woman-guardian” has been partially deconstructed in the new Eastern-European society. The woman-guardian is not a meek mother of a family, sitting by the window and waiting for her breadwinner, but a warrior protecting her land equally with the man. In this system, motherhood does not exclude her from agency, but strengthens her power.

In the empire, this agency and subjectivity of Ukrainian women is usually stereotyped as witchcraft – literally demonized. But keep offending the Ukrainian witches and witchers – and you will end up jinxed.

The Kalush Orchestra vocalist speaks about the peaceful lullaby for the children who have miraculously survived. Listen: this lullaby is also a curse. The curse on invaders. Because in the staged video, the decorations are all real.

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