NEW YORK — Ukrainian rock star Ruslana Lyzhychko sat with her back to the camera, putting the final touches to her makeup.
“We are the faces of Ukraine,” she said smiling. “Do you think this is a face Putin would fear?”
Whether the Russian president is afraid of Ruslana’s — she goes by her first name only — ability to lead the opposition in Ukraine, no one can say. Her mission to save her republic, democracy and to keep her nation whole is central to her life now, and she says she won’t back down until Putin leaves Ukraine.
But time is running short. On Sunday night, what are being called pro-Russian protesters seized government buildings in the three key eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv. On Monday, rebels occupied Donetsk’s regional government building, calling it the “people’s republic” and setting a May 11 referendum to secede from Ukraine, like Crimea’s last month.
“Everybody [in Ukraine] understands that Putin is a really bad guy … that he’s a monster,” Ruslana said, noting that Russia’s propaganda arm has tried to turn the world against Ukraine and create the false reality that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are calling out for Moscow’s help.
“I’m not afraid of you,” she said, referring to Putin. “We will stand up against him. Get out of my country.”
The dark-haired firebrand, who served in Ukraine’s parliament from 2006 to 2007 and was listed by Forbes magazine last year as one of the 10 most influential women in the world, was in New York City this past week to attend the 2014 “Women in the World” summit, to ask United Nations allies for help. She was honored for her humanitarian efforts by media executive Tina Brown.
Even though she was in the United States to deliver a warning about Russia’s intentions for her nation, the singer, speaking to TheBlaze in her Manhattan hotel room, said her heart was still in her nation’s capital of Kiev, where she slept under the stars with other Ukrainian citizens in the city’s Independence Square through the cold winter months.
“The next several months will be the most dangerous,” Ruslana said. “Putin will not want peace and he will make his move before the planned elections in May.”
She said what’s happened is not just a Ukrainian problem. On Wednesday, TheBlaze TV’s For The Record (8 p.m. ET) will give viewers more firsthand accounts of the growing deadly violence and examine what could happen next as Moscow further encroaches on mainland Ukraine.
Safe in New York City, Ruslana held a small flashlight in one hand. She turned it on and off. As part of a growing resistance in her nation, she said it was her way of connecting the hundreds of thousands of opposition protesters with the opposition leaders on stage during the uprisings, she said.
“You can recognize Ukrainian revolution with the lights,” she said, referring to the throngs of people who joined her nightly to sing her nation’s national anthem in the square. “We call this people power, and lights and freedom. It’s my power. It’s the power of the Ukrainian people.”
She has a message for Putin: He’s the one who needs to be afraid, not the Ukrainian people.
“I would burn pieces of wood before I would buy Putin’s gas,” she said. “And then to Mr. Putin, we will see one day when Russian people will switch on their Russian lights for freedom. We will see Maidan [Kiev's Independence Square] in Russia. Believe me, we will see this. Putin is not speaking for Russian people, that’s it. When I talk to Russian people I have a message: We are brothers, Ukrainian and Russian people. Wake up, Russia. Wake up and don’t be afraid. You are strong enough. You have power, you have unique country, unique culture … come on, guys. You have power; Putin is not Russia.”
In 100 days, Ruslana sang her nation’s national anthem 500 times to the crowds. She also rushed to the aide of beaten and bloody protesters in February and remembered the hundreds who lost their lives fighting for freedom.
Since the beginning of last year’s uprisings in November, she’s had to cancel many of her performances. German new agencies termed her, “Kiev’s queen of the night,” and the Spanish newspaper El Mundo compared her leadership in Independence Square to Joan of Arc. In the United States, she’s being hailed as an extraordinary female voice for democracy and freedom.
“She stands for freedom and that’s something every American can understand. She’s a firebrand and somebody that can reach so many people with her art,” Alex Kuzma, chief development officer with the nonprofit Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, told TheBlaze.
Kuzma, whose young daughter is a big fan of hers, added, “her ability to stand for what’s right — including her rock-star status — makes her an opposition voice to be reckoned with.”
But Ruslana said Ukraine does not have the power to push Putin back alone. She said with the help from allies around the world who will fight “for truth, for peace, for independence and for democracy,” Putin can be stopped. With help from the United States, Great Britain and other Western allies “we can push Putin back together,” she added.
Like many opposition leaders, Ruslana reinforces a warning to the West that Putin’s plan is it to build “a new empire from [the] old Soviet period.”
“So we have a new dictator, new empire – that’s it. Everybody must understand this. It’s not a problem for Ukraine [to understand this] but the rest of the world must understand this as well.”
“I have asked, ‘People, don’t leave Maidan, even now … Ukraine is endanger,’” she said. “We have a war in this Maidan against Putin. It started against [ousted Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovich, but now it’s against Putin.”
“I didn’t sleep in my home. I slept there on Maidan – It was so dangerous to come back to my home. I had so many calls [threatening me] I had so many people calling me to [warn] me to leave Maidan or we will kill you,” she said. ”I will not go, I was never afraid. I also understood that some snipers were looking for me. I never left Maidan … it didn’t matter. Even if Putin will call me and tell me to leave Maidan — I will answer goodbye Putin — that’s it.”
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Programming note: For more on the situation in Ukraine, tune into TheBlaze TV’s For the Record Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.