Taras Borovok: Fighting Russia with an ‘arsenal of songs’

Writer of viral tune about Bayraktar drones now has a hit with Himars song

“The invaders attacked us, down in Ukraine/In fresh uniforms and in tanks all they came/But their shiny new toys are now blazing on fire/Bayraktar.”

Thus begins the English language version of a popular, catchy, high-speed rap tune that has become part of the soundtrack of the war in Ukraine.

Bayraktar is a Turkish drone which the Ukrainians have used to great advantage against Russian armour. The original version of the song comes with a warning that some viewers may find it offensive. Tanks appear in the drone’s crosshairs, a fraction of a second before they are blown up. Russian prisoners are shown blindfolded and handcuffed.

The song mocks Russians for “eating cabbage soup and drinking tea” and compares them to “a great flock of sheep herded to the abattoir by Bayraktar”. There is something comical about the name Bayraktar, intoned ominously at the end of each stanza.

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The video is the brainchild of Taras Borovok, age 49, a newly minted lieutenant colonel in the Ukrainian army.

Borovok arrives for our appointment at a cafe in Dnipro dressed in jeans and a Florida State T-shirt. He wears a beard and ponytail and comes across more like a mischievous prankster than a master propagandist.

As a soldier from 1988 until 2006, first in the Red Army, then in the armed forces of independent Ukraine, Borovok studied defence strategy, psychology and journalism on military scholarships. An amateur musician, he wrote more than 100 songs. Of his three years in the Soviet army he says, laughing, “The uniforms and shoes were so uncomfortable that I always had the impression they were designed by enemies.”

After Borovok was sacked in mass cutbacks in 2006, he embarked on a new career in show business. “For 16 years, I was a total civilian. A television host, screenwriter, and producer of feature films, with a great deal of success.”

When the Russian military build-up began on Ukraine’s borders last year, an old friend in charge of anti-Russian propaganda for the Ukrainian military suggested Borovok rejoin the service.

He signed a contract, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel, on February 24th, the day the war started.

The performance of Bayraktar drones, which Ukraine had purchased from Turkey, was one of the few good news stories in the first days of the war. Borovok’s friend asked him to write a song about it.

After the Ukrainian armed forces uploaded the song on its Facebook page, subscribers shot up nearly 30-fold in two weeks. “Bayraktar” went viral on social media and has been viewed across North American and Europe.

Borovok believes up to half the population of Ukraine have seen it. The Turkish manufacturer sent a message, thanking him for the best free publicity he has ever known, and inviting Borovok and his family to visit Turkey after the war.

Borovok spent the first three months of the war holed up in his music studio, producing what he calls “an arsenal of songs”.

He takes the video images from open sources on the internet. “I do everything myself. I write the songs, sing, edit. It costs nothing — only my military salary.”

Borovok’s second biggest hit, “Himars”, after the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, debuted on the armed forces website on July 18th.

Ukrainian officials credit Himars, which is used to destroy Russian fuel and ammunition depots behind enemy lines, with dramatically reducing casualties. “Himars” the song deploys the same sophomoric humour as “Bayraktar”, endearing a deadly weapons system to a beleaguered population.

“Our brotherly friend from America scared the Russians so bad they farted smoke,” the video begins. “Rocket after rocket, our anger falls on the Moscovites. When Himars goes ba-boom the Russians flee "

It is not great poetry, not great music, but it is catchy and effective. Between the armed forces website, the parliamentary Telegram channel, and other platforms, Borovok estimates “Himars” was viewed up to four million times last week.

Borovok’s videos say something about the versatility of Ukrainians, their skill at information technology and social media, and their ability to remain lighthearted in the face of adversity. “We are a talented nation,” he says. “Humour and self-irony prevent us descending into sadness.”

Borovok has written 26 songs about the war. “Some are sad and make people cry. But the sad songs get very few views, whereas the funny songs get millions. These songs give people confidence that we are strong and unbroken, and that the enemy is stupid.”

Classified army videos, Borovok says, show “horrible scenes of our soldiers, my comrades, killing Russian soldiers in cold blood, without sadness or joy, because it is their job.

“I am not a warrior who could do that,” Borovok continues. “I fight with words. I kill my enemies on the information frontline. Some of my friends who are peaceful, calm people told me they feel satisfied when they see Russians killed. At the same time, they pray their attitude towards peace and other people will not change. They know the Russians came here to rape and kill. I am confident that those who fight this war will be normal people again.”

Borovok’s next song will be entitled “It’s a Bag,” slang in Ukrainian for “you’re dead” or “you’re finished” and is addressed to Vladimir Putin. He has also scheduled a series of performances in military hospitals and will soon broadcast a documentary on Russian war crimes in Ukraine. He is pleased when Russian propaganda maligns him. “It means we have slapped the dead bear.” (The bear is a symbol of Russia.)

Borovok used to watch the Russian stand-up comedy programme KVN. “Now they are telling people, ‘Don’t be afraid of Europe. We will make them crawl on their knees with our gas.’ I don’t find it funny, but they laugh at it.”

Does he ever have qualms about glorifying instruments of death and destruction? I ask Borovok. “I praise the shield that is protecting my nation,” he replies. “We did not attack anyone. We are protecting our homes.”