As the United Nations reports that nearly six million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have been forced to leave their homeland since war began in February, an ensemble of music activists has released a new song “Ukrainian Now!” — co-written by Tom Paxton and John McCutcheon — to show their solidarity and support for the refugees.
Noel Paul Stookey — who first gained acclaim in the 1960s as a member of Peter, Paul and Mary — edited an accompanying lyric video. It opens with the image of golden fields and deep blue skies, echoing the colors of the Ukrainian flag,
At the piano, McCutcheon sings lead on the song, whose lyrics begin: “When I open the paper/ Or check out the news on TV/ It’s pictures of buildings exploding/ Is all that I see/ There in the midst of the horror, the blood and the bone/ Are the Davids against the Goliaths / Defending their home/ I am Ukrainian now/ I will stand I will not bow/ I am Ukrainian now.”
The lyric is written in the first-person style that has been a hallmark for decades of the compelling, topical songs of Paxton, a veteran of the socially conscious singer-songwriter surge of the 1960s in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Bob Dylan “is usually cited as the founder of the New Song movement, and he certainly became its most visible standard-bearer, but the person who started the whole thing was Tom Paxton,” wrote the late folk pioneer Dave Van Ronk in his memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street.
In turn, Paxton has long credited the influence of the music and activism of Pete Seeger. In fact, on May 3, what would have been Seeger’s 103rd birthday, Paxton and collaborators Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer released “Pete’s Shoulders (The Power of Song)” from a forthcoming live album.
“Ukrainian Now!” features an ensemble of musicians, both veterans and relative newcomers, who collectively have given witness to the power of song across their careers.
Along with McCutcheon, Paxton and Stookey, they include Peter Yarrow, also formerly of Peter, Paul and Mary; Native American artist Bill Miller; singer-songwriters Tret Fure, Holly Near, Carrie Newcomer, Christine Lavin and Crys Matthews; members of the groups Emma’s Revolution and Rebel Voices; and Chicago-based folk musician Joe Jencks, whose electric bouzouki offers counterpoint to McCutcheon’s piano.
To encourage others to perform the song, the YouTube video also includes the sheet music of the composition.
“Ukrainian Now!” captures what it means for people to abandon lives they once knew to fight for their homes, and the heartache of loved ones separated, as reflected in the lyrics: “I am the soldier who used to dance in the ballet/ I am the father sending my family away.”
And they also convey what is at stake: “The world that once was so big/ Now feels so small,” sings Stookey. “An attack on the freedom of one/ Is aimed at us all.”
Among the video’s most striking images is a shot of bombed-out buildings that pulls back to show a cellist playing amid the desolation.
The ensemble concludes by singing, “While others are mounting resistance and risking it all/ How can we stand by impassive/ When we hear their call?/ We are Ukrainian now/ We will stand and we will not bow/ A half a world away but somehow/ We all are Ukrainian now.”
Watch “Ukrainian Now!” below: