A Ukrainian Pop Star's Would-Be Revolution Ruslana, Ukraine's biggest pop star, switches between two roles on stage: a limp, pale, synthetic woman chained to a machine for energy and a vibrant warrior whose energy comes from clean, renewable resources. But in post-Soviet Ukraine, her fans are more interested in capitalist consumption than conservation.
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A Ukrainian Pop Star's Would-Be Revolution

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A Ukrainian Pop Star's Would-Be Revolution

A Ukrainian Pop Star's Would-Be Revolution

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of song "Wild Energy")

SIEGEL: That is not the usual music we play for Climate Connections, our series with National Geographic. Today, we have a report about climate change and pop music. That music and our story come from Ukraine.

Factories and heating plants there are mostly old and inefficient and they spew out lots of greenhouse gases. Few Ukrainians are promoting clean renewable energy. But NPR's Dan Charles caught up with one woman who is. She is a former member of parliament and the country's biggest pop star.

RUSLANA (Singer): I'm Ruslana. I'm a singer from Ukraine. Now, I present Ukraine and the world with my new project "Wild Energy."

(Soundbite of song "Wild Energy")

DAN CHARLES: Like a Brazilian soccer star, Ruslana gets by with just one name and everybody in Ukraine knows it.

(Soundbite of song "Wild Energy")

CHARLES: In her music, you can hear echoes of Ukrainian folk songs, but nobody is going to call Ruslana a folk singer.

(Soundbite of song "Wild Energy")

CHARLES: Her live shows are spectacles with fire, smoke, dancers and costumes. In the middle of it all, there's Ruslana, tossing her hair, stamping her feet, and usually not wearing very much; a small bundle of unbridled energy.

That image is why she originally decided to call her new stage show "Wild Energy."

Yuriy Melnyk, her international publicity manager, says the words just seemed to fit her style.

Mr. YURIY MELNYK (Manager, Ruslana): But it later transcends into something much bigger - the energy of the wind, the energy of the sun, the energy of water.

RUSLANA: Renewable energy. Energy independence.

CHARLES: Ruslana says she wants to get people thinking about the environmental cost of fossil fuels and the dangers of global climate change, not by lecturing, but with dazzle and a driving beat.

(Soundbite of music)

RUSLANA: (Through translator) It's very important to show this issue very visually. It has to be presented very well, so teenagers don't just hear it, they really understand it.

CHARLES: So, Ruslana doesn't sing about carbon footprints and gas prices; she sings about the wild energy of love. It triumphs over a synthetic world, dependent on synthetic energy. In the video version, it's a pale, metallic-looking woman who gets her strength from a giant machine. You may look nice, Ruslana sings, but that synthetic mask isn't really you.

(Soundbite of song "Wild Energy")

CHARLES: Ukraine is not a rich country, but it burns coal and gas as if it were. Ukraine consumes almost as much energy per person as Italy, even though the average Italian is four times richer.

Most of Ukraine's energy, especially natural gas, comes from Russia. And every so often, Russia threatens to cut Ukraine off. In fact, that's a big reason why Ruslana got interested in this issue. She is a Ukrainian nationalist. She joined street protests that brought down a government in 2004 and took a seat briefly in Ukraine's parliament. She's pushing for greater independence from Russia, including energy independence.

RUSLANA: (Through translator) Ukrainians should know that they are not as dependent on natural gas as they think they are.

CHARLES: But it's really not easy getting young Ukrainians interested in clean, green, home-grown energy.

Mr. ROMAN LEBED (Journalist): For young people, they don't care about this, I think.

CHARLES: Roman Lebed is a 21-year-old journalist in Kiev. His friend, Inna Zheliezna, is a student. She's 19.

Ms. INNA ZHELIEZNA (Student): They think about their everyday problems.

Mr. LEBED: Something, which is closer for me like - I don't know - I have to study my - I have to finish my university, so why should I think about some global warming.

Ms. ZHELIEZNA: All of us know about this problem, but only few are really concerned about it and really think that we should do something.

CHARLES: Even Iryna Stavchuk, who works specifically on climate change for one of Ukraine's environmental groups, says she can't really get her generation interested.

Ms. IRYNA STAVCHUK (Environmentalist): They just don't want to listen anything about it. One thing could be, it's not interesting. Another thing could be, they don't want to be bothered with anything.

CHARLES: They're too busy hanging on as their country continues its wild ride from Soviet socialist republic into capitalism. They've seen dramatic changes, and underneath a layer of Slavic melancholy, there's a touch of amazement.

Irina Kosovar is an economist with a consulting company.

Ms. IRINA KOSOVAR (Economist): Yes, it's - this life is more competitive, yes. But you have a lot of opportunities. Really, a lot of opportunities.

CHARLES: In the capital city of Kiev, wealth seems almost within reach now. It's there on television, billboards, and on the streets clogged with shiny new cars. In fact, if there's one thing that's the focus of life in the new, capitalist Ukraine today...

Mr. LEBED: It's money.

Unidentified Woman #1: Money.

Unidentified Woman #2: Money.

Unidentified Man #1: Get some money.

Unidentified Man #2: Young people in Ukraine spend lot of time thinking about how to get money.

Ms. ZHELIEZNA: Yes. Yes, it's question number one.

CHARLES: Ruslana, though, is trying to persuade young Ukrainians that coal and gas are just as vital as cash.

RUSLANA: (Through translator) Energy is like currency, like money. This is how I see it in my project. It's the most valuable currency. And until we realize it, we are going to waste it.

(Soundbite of music)

CHARLES: Yet even Ruslana, for all her energy and celebrity, sounds at times a little unsure that her cause will catch on.

RUSLANA: (Speaking in foreign language)

CHARLES: To be honest, she says, I'm a little bit afraid of starting a PR campaign about climate change or Ukraine's appetite for fossil fuels. She says, she needs more allies and sponsors. She doesn't want to be a lonely voice.

(Soundbite of music)

CHARLES: Dan Charles, NPR News.

SIEGEL: You can see Ruslana in action in a video at npr.org/climateconnections.

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