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The Image of the Enemy in Ukrainian Wartime Songs (2022–2023)

L’image de l’ennemi dans les chansons ukrainiennes (2022‑2023)
Образ ворога в українських піснях часів війни (2022–2023)
Liudmyla Harmash


Cette étude analyse les chansons ukrainiennes de 2022‑2023, mettant l’accent sur la représentation de l’ennemi, figure centrale des chansons de guerre. Issu des genres folkloriques, l’ennemi incarne des qualités négatives liées à l’épreuve, au mal et à la mort. L’article explore son image en termes de nomination, compréhension émotionnelle, développement de l’intrigue, et corrélation avec d’autres images négatives. Utilisant une analyse narrative, motivante et contextuelle, la recherche vise à caractériser de manière exhaustive l’image de l’ennemi dans les chansons ukrainiennes.

Six variétés d’images d’ennemis sont identifiées : chthoniens, barbares, porteurs de maladies, figures chrétiennes, adversaires historiques, et menaces à l’identité nationale. La connotation négative est accentuée, notamment dans l’intrigue, conduisant à l’élaboration d’un modèle narratif.

La personnalité linguistique de l’ennemi se reflète dans un contexte connotatif dominé par des genres de discours négatifs, satiriques ou pragmatiques neutres. L’analyse conclut que l’ennemi est représenté sous différents angles, avec un développement stylistique approfondi. Ses caractéristiques représentent des anti‑valeurs, influencées par la fusion des visions du monde mythopoétique, héroïque et chrétienne. L’ennemi est conceptualisé avec une forte composante sensuelle, mettant en avant la peur, la colère et la haine, soulignant sa nature destructrice par des associations avec des concepts tels que le monstre, le meurtre et le péché, présentant l’ennemi comme une anti‑valeur singulière.

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1. Introduction

1As the Russian Federation initiated a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the imperative to bolster the morale of Ukrainians became paramount. In the early days of the war, a surge of songs emerged, serving as an important means for people to navigate the prevailing anxiety, fear, and confusion. The lyrical discourse of these songs mirrored contemporary events and encapsulated the sentiments and experiences born out of the wartime context.

2Following the archetype of the hero-defender, the image of the enemy traditionally assumes a prominent role in war-themed songs. Rooted in folklore genres such as ballads, Cossack heroic epics, and historical songs, the portrayal of the enemy encapsulates negative qualities associated with themes of hardship, harm, and mortality. The Ukrainian Dictionary of the Ukrainian language defines an enemy as “a person who bears a grudge or engages in conflict; an adversary or rival”. It further specifies a more nuanced interpretation, narrowing it down to an “external enemy”: someone who encroaches or attacks the country from outside, breaching its borders (Bilodid, 1980: 739). This latter definition finds resonance in contemporary Ukrainian songs, where the image of the invader assumes a central role, embodying the essence of hostility during the ongoing war, as highlighted by Ukrainian folklorist Oksana Kuzmenko (2023).

3The dichotomy between the hero (protagonist) and the enemy (antagonist) traces its origins to the fundamental opposition in mythological consciousness—“friend” and “foe”. While particularly pertinent to ancient cultures, this opposition persists and remains actively reproduced in the mass consciousness of postmodern society, representing one of the enduring forms of human relations.

4This paper delves into the multifaceted analysis of the image of the enemy, exploring its nomination, emotional and sensual comprehension, speech genres, and narration. The research employs narrative, mythopoetic, and imagological analyses to comprehensively characterize the representation of the enemy within the corpus of poetic texts found in Ukrainian songs from the difficult year of 2022.

5The research methodology encompasses narrative, mythopoetic, and imagological analyses, with the goal of providing a comprehensive characterization of the image of the enemy within the corpus of poetic texts from Ukrainian songs of 2022–2023.

2. The imagological type of enemy

6The image of the enemy exhibits a heterogeneous nature, yet all its character representations in contemporary Ukrainian songs are distilled into the imagological type of a military adversary. This adversary has invaded an independent state, relentlessly attempting to capture and subdue it.

7Six distinct varieties of this image are discernible:

81. Chthonic enemies. These encompass depictions of monsters and otherworldly forces carrying the semantics of danger, such as orcs, orcostans, black force, evil, monsters, Moskal monsters, darkness, horde from the swamps, devil, demons, bloody demon, soulless zombie dead men (“zhmuriki”), orcs, Russ stinkers (“rusnja smerdjucha”). The association of the military enemy with chthonic monsters arises from the destructive nature of the latter. Confrontations with them prove deadly due to their defiance of rational persuasion, embodying elemental rage and uncontrollable anger. They are primitive yet powerful, capable of obliterating anything in their path, leaving behind ruins and casualties. This category also includes deities like titans, animals associated with death and the otherworld (reptiles, wolves, etc.), and creatures symbolizing the untamed natural power of the earth. Orcs, a race of ugly, cruel, and aggressive monsters in Western European folklore, widely recognized through the fantasy works of J. R. R. Tolkien, are frequently likened to the Russian military. This analogy is rooted in the perception of the enemy as possessing negative characteristics such as bloodthirstiness, avarice, belligerence, guile, treachery, a propensity for violence, and uncontrolled aggression. The comparison extends to the enemy army, characterized as a poorly organized, chaotic force led by charismatic yet strategically deficient leaders. Unable to secure victories, they act to the detriment of both the enemy and their subordinates. Drawing from Tolkien’s orcs originating from Mordor, a “dying but not yet dead” country, the Russian Federation is occasionally referred to as Mordor. Chthonic beings also include zombies, humans deprived of their souls, and are fairly widespread in songs, featuring personifications such as toads (representing darkness, evil, greed, and lust), snakes, pigs, and rats (Tressider, 2005).

92. Enemies as Barbarians. This characterization has a long tradition dating back to antiquity and is linked to the memory of the Tatar-Mongol invasion. Similarly, Winston Churchill, in one of his speeches, referred to the German people as “malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable” (Churchill, 27 April 1941), and in another speech called the German army that invaded the USSR “the Hun soldiery, plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts” (Churchill, 22 June 1941).

103. Enemies as a Deadly Disease. Emphasizing the semantics of widespread, general danger, and squeamishness, this category includes references to cholera, plague, and plague rats. In Ukrainian language consciousness, plague is defined as “an acute infectious disease of humans and animals, often spreading in the form of epidemics”, and in a figurative sense, as “an extremely dangerous, destructive social phenomenon” (Bilodid, 1980: 382).

114. Enemies in the Aspect of Christian Religion (Orthodoxy). By analogy with the “lost sheep”, the “lost calves” are those Russians who succumb to the indoctrination of propaganda and support the authorities. One of the songs states, “You’re no longer Orthodox, and you should know that there’s a road that leads you down the furnace!” (“Ти більше не православний і знай, що на тебе чекає у пекло дорога!”). The occupants are associated with the executioners who crucified Christ (“crucified Bucha”), with the devil (“наші землі топче диявол”), and Putin with Judas. This primarily refers to Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Christ who betrayed his teacher for 30 pieces of silver, but also brings to mind the main character of the novel “The Golovlyov Family” by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Porfiry Golovlyov, nicknamed Judushka, who caused the death of those close to him. The similarity between the Russian writer’s character and the Russian President can be seen in their idle talk, hypocrisy, cynicism, use of grandiloquent phrases, and sanctimonious masks to cover up vile and lowly deeds.

125. Historical Enemies (Real Personalities). The highest frequency of references in the lyrics of Ukrainian songs belongs to the President of the Russian Federation. Less frequently mentioned are President Lukashenko of Belarus, other representatives of power, and some media personalities (e.g. singer Baskov, etc.).

136. Enemies Seeking to Destroy the National Identity of the Ukrainian People: Russian music, according to some radical songwriters, poses a threat to the Ukrainian language (“with liters of poison their music kills, destroys your tongue” — “літрами отрути їхня музика вбиває, нищить твою мову”), contributing to the destruction of the national identity. The negative attitude toward the Russian language, its total rejection, seems, at first glance, exaggerated and even discriminatory, but there are good reasons for this. Firstly, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s assertion, later picked up by Putin, about the denial of the Ukrainian language and an attempt to convince that the Ukrainian nation does not really exist, has contributed to this. Such arguments are used to prove the legitimacy of the seizure of Ukrainian territories, starting with Crimea. They justify the formation of the so‑called people’s republics in Donbass and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops that followed on 24 February 2022. This led to a defensive reaction on the part of Ukrainians, especially Russian speakers, who have begun not only to switch en masse to Ukrainian in everyday communication but also to defiantly reject the values of Russian culture and the Russian language, since language is one of the most important means of forming national identity. Rejection of the Russian language has become, for many Ukrainians, a way of shielding their consciousness from the “Russian world” and the system of values it propagates. Lexical and phonetic discrepancies in Russian and Ukrainian have become a cause for jokes and internet memes. In one of the songs, the situation with the word “palyanitsya” (“паляниця” — round bread), which serves to identify the enemy, is played up ironically, as this word is quite difficult to pronounce for a person who does not know the Ukrainian language. This word became a meme after Russian propagandist Margarita Skabeyeva not only mispronounced it in one of her broadcasts but also translated it as “strawberry,” confusing it with “polunitsa” (“полуниця”). In one of the songs, the lyrical hero addresses his opponent with feigned concern, playing around with this situation: “Why can’t you sleep, enemy? Are you learning to say ‘palyanitsya’“ (“Чом тобі, вороже, не спиться? Певно, вчишся казати ‘паляниця’?”). The songs employ numerous expressive ethnonyms intended to humiliate and insult the enemy, including: “Russnya” (“русня”): a derogatory term for Russians; “Rashists”: a term combining the americanized name of the country (Russia) and “fascism”, suggesting the enemy’s militaristic ideology and genocidal policy; “Moskal”, “katsap”, or “Moscow katsaps”: pejorative nicknames for Russians used by Ukrainians; “Vanka-vstanka”: formed from a stable combination of the expression “Russian Ivan” (a generalized noun for Russian people) and a child’s toy, emphasizing the infantile nature of the opponent; “tricoloured Evil”: contains an allusion to the tricolored fragment of the Russian Federation.

14The central meaning of the concept “enemy” is that of a “military adversary”, and this understanding is not solely literal. Instead, it primarily mirrors archaic perceptions of the enemy as a manifestation of negative qualities that pose a threat to fundamental social values and represent a mortal danger to the nation. The concepts within the near-core zone further elaborate on the system of anti‑values associated with the image of the enemy. The most nominally dense are the concepts of cruelty and anger (“your heart is a stone!”, “Donbas was sown with corpses long ago, sprinkled with other people’s blood”, “how bold to shoot at civilians, destroy other people’s houses, [...] animals, children to kill”, “you have blood on your hands”, “what kind of ferocity, you need to have to trample on our earth with your boot”, “you love to fight, burn and kill”, “a fierce enemy knocks you down”); fear and cowardice (“and while everyone in Moscow is afraid”, “I feel your fear”, “you are hiding in the bunker” (about Putin), “those orcs, frightened and sad, lie without legs and without arms”, “forever in your eyes fear will freeze”, “the orcs began to run away in shock”; indifference and silence (“he doesn’t care if women or children suffer in front of him”, “like pawns without an opinion”, “these people are soulless and empty”, “silence is synonymous with lies”, “it’s not ‘hail’ that kills anymore, it’s silence that kills a ‘brother’”, “their idols are silent”; delusions (“lost calves”, “people swallow the words of propaganda”, “zombified just for killing”); diseases (“sick father”, “we protect the house from disease”, “unhealthy doctors came to treat the healthy”); lies and deceit (“lying ‘Russian world’”, “your freedom is mired in lies your freedom”, “calling death an operation”, “damn Muscovites lie that we do not exist”, “they laid the ‘Russian world’ like cuckoo eggs”, “how can you kill people and say that you defended them?”, “shed innocent blood under the pretext of saving souls”, “always capable of only vile deception”, “fake rallies”); theft and looting (“they stole our lives, covered the cities”, “you have already taken my house — but you will not steal the whole country”).

15As we delve into the imagological type of enemy, it becomes apparent that our perceptions are intricately linked to the ways in which we communicate.

3. Speech genres

16The general connotative background of the image is reflected in its linguistic persona. The dominant genres of the enemy speech party are negative (invective, rebuke, accusation), satirical (mockery, satire, ridicule, sarcasm) or neutral (imperative) pragmatic, but even in the latter case they are almost always negatively emotionally coloured.

17A wide range of inducement speech acts are represented in songs. Inducement is a speech act that, as J. R. Searle wrote, “represents attempts […] on the part of the speaker […] ranging from very modest to very aggressive… to get the hearer to do something” (1986: 182). As a verbal imperative, there are often phrases containing non‑verbal forms (nouns, interjections) with the meaning of inducement as part of exclamatory statements: “Death to the enemy!” They can be addressed directly to enemy soldiers: “March! Straight to the furnace!”, or to civilians who support Putin’s regime and are influenced by propaganda: “Turn your head on, turn off the TV.”

18One of the dominant genres in the speech portrayal of the enemy is accusation. The addressees of these accusations include the occupiers, Russians who support the war or remain neutral, and Vladimir Putin. The accusations are often actualized through a genre synthesis, incorporating elements of menace or rebuke. Many accusation scenarios are deployed. According to J. R. Searle’s classification, the speech act of accusation belongs to the class of expressives (1986: 5). The illocutionary purpose of expressives is to articulate a mental state regarding a state of affairs defined within the propositional content. The menasive aspect is actualized in the enemy’s speech as a form of retribution for the outbreak of the war with Ukraine and the subsequent numerous tragedies, including the murder of people, destruction of houses, forced relocation, etc.

19Ridicule functions to sharply diminish the status of the opponent by providing a negative assessment of their personal qualities, appearance, and actions. It is characterized by ambiguity, where the joke conceals aggression aimed at the addressee, implying insult and humiliation. The songs also employ satirical techniques, including sarcastic and malicious mockery that is not veiled by a positive form. Sarcasm, marked by sharp and caustic mockery with subtle snide remarks, is another form of explicit aggression. Mockery, a vicious and insulting joke, is also utilized in the songs to ridicule the enemy’s short-sightedness, which may lead to unfortunate consequences. The enemy’s behavior is likened to insects desiring to consume sweet honey: “fly like a honeycomb, become all two hundred!” This references the well‑known idiom “like flies to honey”, denoting a large number of people striving for something that appears highly attractive. Ultimately, attempting to satisfy this intense desire to invade a foreign country results in a massive loss of life for the enemy.

20Songwriters make assumptions with the intention of expressing the speech act of a hypothesis. The heuristic nature of the process of understanding and interpretation has been discussed as early as G. Leech (1983: 41). In speech, this type of sentence is realized in statements that reflect the speaker’s ignorance of the actual state of affairs, and modal words serve as formal indicators. These modal words include phrases such as possibly, maybe, probably, should be, undoubtedly, in my opinion, and others. For example:

Or maybe it was the people who were slaves,

Lived in the neighbourhood, kept silent,

Kept their whips, gave their strength to the tyrant.

А, может, это люди, которые рабами были,

Жили по соседству, молчали,

Кнуты держали, силы давали тирану.

21Here, the speaker endeavours to comprehend how it transpired that in a neighbouring country, a tyrant acquired unlimited power. The hypothesis posits that this might have occurred due to the slavish submission of the people, who silently acquiesced to the authority.

22More definitive are the rhetorical questions, which express a broad spectrum of negative emotions ranging from surprise and indignation to hatred and calls to destroy the enemy, as evident in the song “Beat it!” by Iryna Vykhovanets: “Beat the Moscovite! Why are you sitting?” where the speaker appeals to Ukrainians. In the song “Soon” by Krechet, the speaker is perplexed, unable to comprehend what led to the invasion of Ukraine by the enemy:

What do the creatures who spend money on wars expect?

Where the poor have no bread to eat,

Against a country where people are ready to defend without legs?

На що розраховують тварі, які витрачають на війни,

Де бідні не мають на хліб,

Проти країни, яку боронити готові без ніг?

23The implication of this question is clear: an adversary with insufficient resources cannot expect to defeat a country whose people are willing to defend themselves desperately, despite any losses. A similar question, but without argumentation, also conveys surprise at the stupidity of the enemy and subtextually carries a certainty of the futility of the actor’s actions, treating them as an unreasonable infant incapable of foreseeing the consequences of their actions: “And why did this fool come to us?” Similarly, Putin’s motives are incomprehensible to the Russian soldier, on whose behalf the question is posed: “Why did he make this mess for us?” In the song “Executioners” by Galina Kapriyan, she expresses her indignation that murderers and rapists sleep peacefully, worrying about nothing and feeling not the slightest guilt: “How do you sleep? What are you dreaming about?”

24In another song, the speaker queries the enemy, “Kyiv in three days?” or “Did you think that if you came to our lands, we would greet you with greetings?”, suggesting that any expectation of a positive reaction from Russian-speaking Ukrainians to the invasion was in vain. The invader may have hoped for their support and a swift resolution to the “special military operation”.

25In certain songs, the question itself already encapsulates the answer: “Was that what you wanted, Hell instead of heaven?” or “Why did you come here, Two hundred? Two hundred…!”. The question directed at Putin conveys a death wish in a derogatory manner:

Oh, you, Putya, Putya, you silly boy,

Why didn’t you choke to death when you were a child?

Ой, ти, Путя, Путя ти дурненький,

Чом ти не вдавився, коли був маленьким?

26The presupposition here can be interpreted as follows: it is regrettable that Putin did not pass away during childhood; otherwise, the current problems might not exist.

27The speaker conveys surprised outrage at the hypocrisy of an enemy who, without a shred of doubt, asserts his righteousness, cynically justifying criminal actions with purported good intentions:

How can you kill people and say     

You were defending them?…

Як можна вбивати людей, казати,

Що захищав?…

28From the perspective of mythological consciousness, it is considered natural to deceive one’s enemy, as honourable and honest actions, such as keeping one’s word, are deemed applicable only in dealings with one’s own. When dealing with the “other”, they are not perceived as equals but rather as something less than human. All means are considered fair in defeating the enemy. The cunning Odysseus, for example, achieved victory over the Trojans through deception after an unsuccessful ten‑year siege of Troy. It is essential to note that this example is not cited to draw parallels between Odysseus and Putin or to justify the latter. The intention is solely to comprehend the essence of the ongoing events within the framework of the relationship between an “insider” and an “outsider”.

29As a result, the questions express sarcasm, mockery, bewilderment, and other negative emotions. They also attempt to elucidate the motivations behind Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, issue threats to the aggressor, and call on defenders of the fatherland to annihilate the enemy.

30In the realm of Ukrainian songs, speech genres serve as powerful tools for conveying emotions ranging from defiance to unity. As we delve into the lyrical content, it becomes evident that a narrative model unfolds—one that intricately weaves the image of the enemy into the broader storytelling fabric.

4. Narrative model

31The negative connotation associated with the image of the enemy is actualized at all levels, primarily within the plot. When we amalgamate the narrative lines depicted in the songs into a unified model, it can be represented as follows:

32The exposition and the beginning serve as the motivation for the attack, presented from the perspective of Ukrainians. The enemy initially appears as a savior, but the “victims” reject rescue, responding defiantly to actions by the Russian Federation (“И не надо нас спасать. Что за вздор?” — “And we do not need rescuing. This is nonsense!”). Furthermore, the purported saviour is revealed to be the one needing defence, with the “salvation” serving as a pretext for invading foreign territory and causing harm to civilians (“Innocent blood has been shed under the pretext of saving souls” — “Пролили кровь невинную под предлогом душ спасения”).

33These songs draw inspiration from real events, reflected in frontline reports, media discussions, speeches by politicians, and testimonies from those directly involved in or witnessing the hostilities in occupied territories or on the frontline. For instance, the Ukrainian press compares Russia’s intentions to the American “storm in the desert” or the failed blitzkrieg of Nazi Germany, while the lyrics assert, “They wanted to capture us immediately, and we harbored a grudge against the orcs” (“Вони захопити хотіли нас зразу, і ми зачаїли на орків образу”). Similar intentions are attributed to the leader of the Russian Federation: “The old sickly grandfather wants Kiev in three days” (“Старий хворий дід хоче Київ за три дні”).

34Likewise, the songs delve into the historical roots of the enduring animosity between Russians and Ukrainians, sometimes articulated in unequivocal terms:

And I have hated Muscovites since

As my dad taught me when I was

And my grandfather taught my dad, his father taught my grandfather.

А я з дитинства ненавиджу москалів,

Мене ще тато так маленького навчив,

А мого тата дідо, діда – його тато.

35The enemy’s intentions towards Ukraine are not unique, given the Russian Federation’s recurrent involvement in military conflicts across various regions, including Georgia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Transnistria, Syria, and other countries. This dispels the myth of Russia’s peacefulness and refutes the notion of its imperial plans to expand territory and subjugate other nations, as underscored in one of the songs:

They have only one concern:

To plunder, to destroy

Lands and countries.

They have already clung to Ukraine     

Like ticks.

В них одна турбота:

Грабувати, рушити

Землі та країни.

Причепились, як кліщі,

Вже до України.

36The intentions of the enemy are described as unequivocally negative—to kill, rape, torture and, in the end, destroy Ukrainians as a nation:

You have come to our land,

An evil Moscow bloodthirsty butcher,     

To kill Ukrainians,

To destroy our nation to the ground.

Ти прийшов на нашу землю,

Злий московський кат неситий,

Щоб вкраїнців убивати,

Наш під корінь рід згубити

37The subsequent events affirm that these intentions are backed by corresponding actions.

38The plot unfolds with the enemy disregarding the opinions of those they claim to have come to save, persisting in their offensive actions. The Ukrainian response to the arrival of these “uninvited guests” is unequivocally negative. The songs express this sentiment straightforwardly (“You were not expected anywhere here: neither in the village nor in the city” — “Не чекали вас ніде тут: ні в селі, ні в місті”), often supplemented with explanations for the unwelcome reception (“I did not ask a Muscovite to come to my house because Ukraine is not his land!” — “Не просив в хату До себе я москаля, Бо Україна То є не його земля!”), or even accompanied by insults and curses (“Bad Muscovites! Here you are not wanted, here you are like cholera, I wish water would wash you away!” — “Москалі погані, тут ви не жадані, тут ви, як холєра, би вода вас змила!”).

39The Russian army’s offensive is frequently likened to the Tatar-Mongol invasion, characterized by the term “horde”, commonly used in historical literature to denote a band, a horde, a crowd, or an army of nomads and barbarians (“The horde from the marshes is coming again” — “Знову орда із боліт наступає, // Суне і суне”). This description creates the impression of a massive force inexorably advancing, posing a significant threat to the country. This hostile horde, depicted as heartless, is likened in the severity of the damage caused to the country to a terrible disease, nearly incurable, and highly lethal, akin to the plague (“black death”). The songs also reference the destruction of temples, a reality that unfolded repeatedly, with many of these temples belonging to the Orthodox faith. The trampling of religious shrines challenges the myths propagated by Russian authorities about Russia being an Orthodox state and attempts to dispel the notion that only military targets are being targeted in Ukraine.

40As a consequence of the enemy’s actions, the occupied territories are transformed into a hellish landscape (“It looks like hell” — “На пекло схоже”). The destructive impact is starkly emphasized, either through straightforward statements (“It is destroying our world” — “Світ наш руйнує”) or posed as a rhetorical question to the enemy (“Darkness, tell me, why do you destroy?” — “Пітьма, розкажи, // Для чого ти нищиш?”). Amidst the chaos, people suffer and die, with the enemy resorting to abhorrent acts such as the rape of women (“The *ucking army of evil rapes women” — “Зґвалтує в Бучі // Як жінок *буче військо зла”), looting, and indiscriminate shooting, all in an attempt to assert its perceived superiority:

Others came,

They say they’re bigger,

They say they’re older,

And they pulled the trigger.

They cut him off, they took him away…     

Прийшли інші,

Кажуть, що вони більші,

Кажуть, що вони старші,

І нажали на курок.

Відтяли, забрали

41The most profound anguish arises from the loss of children: “took away children’s lives” (“життя забрав дитини не одне”). It is remarked that the enemy consistently exhibits aggressive behavior, a trait inherent to its nature, leading to a generalization of the enemy’s image: “Death and pain — all it has brought for centuries” (“Смерть і біль — все, // Що він вік за віком несе”). This, however, represents a logical error. The song’s universe lacks nuance, painted in only two colors—black and white. Yet, such a clear division of the world into “friend” and “foe” is natural for those experiencing the extremities of a borderland situation.

42Witnesses expressed surprise and sarcasm at the looting perpetrated by the Russian army during the invasion of Ukraine, a revelation that unfolded in the early days of the war. Numerous instances of looting and theft were witnessed by local residents, captured on surveillance cameras, documented by independent media, and reported by international observers, a theme also echoed in the songs (“Orcs stole our things and sent them to Russia” — “Крали орки наші речі, в рашку відправляли”). Particularly notable was the theft of seemingly mundane items like washing machines and toilets (“Someone breaks a window and a shop window, someone wants to steal even a washing machine, someone carries a toilet on a broken tank” — “Хто розбиває вікно і вітрину, // Хто хоче вкрасти навіть пральну машину, // Хто на розбитім танку везе унітаз”). In a touch of irony, another song mockingly labels the invaders as “lovers of washing machines, kettles, and coffee grinders” (“любителями пральних машин, чайників і кавомолок”).

43Resolution. The enemy’s attack ends with his death, after which two possible scenarios for the development of events emerge. First, he returns back in a package for corpses:

Your last campaign!

*itch, remember the missiles!

You don’t need a case anymore,     

Уou’re going home in bags.

Твій останній рейс!

Згадуй с*ка про ракети!

Тобі вже не треба кейс,

Їдешь додому в пакетах.

44Second, his body remains in Ukrainian land, becoming fertilizer for plants (“Our land will be fertilized by the occupiers” — “Нашу землю оккупантом удобрять”, or “Zombies will fall into the ground, flowers will soon grow” — “В землю пада зомбі, скоро виростуть квітки”, or “Russian peace will lie in our black soil” — “Ляже русскій мір в наш чорнозем”). Sunflowers are mentioned most often (“Ask the combatant for seeds in his pocket, and just count, bitches, two hundred sunflowers!” — “Насіння у кишені в комбата попросіть, і лиш рахуйте, суки, двухсоті соняхи!”, or “We have a lot of land, the sunflower harvest will be a record!!!” — “В нас багато землі, врожай соняшника буде рекордним!!!”). The sunflower, a symbolic plant of Ukraine, has held particular significance since 2014 when sunflower blossoms became a symbol of mourning for Ukrainian heroes who lost their lives in the Donbass. Today, this plant symbolizes victory over the invaders.

45Epilogue. The songs may contain a futurological prediction of what awaits the enemy after the war is over:

You will not get

Ukrainian land,

You will be covered by this war     

With anger from every window,     

Like it or don’t like it,

Russia will fall apart!

Не отримаєте ви

Української землі,

Вас накриє ця війна

Гнівом з кожного вікна,

Нравится – не нравится,

РФія розвалиться!

46It is predicted that Ukraine will be liberated from the enemy, and challenging times will unfold. The Russian people are anticipated to condemn those responsible for initiating and participating in the war, potentially leading to the dissolution of the Russian Federation. The speculation about a possible division of Russia into several separate states has been a subject of heated debate in recent years (Shevchenko, 2015). The aforementioned excerpt from the song contains an allusion to Putin’s words about Ukraine (“like it or not, be patient, my beauty”), originally directed at Vladimir Zelensky’s disagreement with the Minsk agreements, but now turned towards Russia.

47Alternatively, a direct threat is issued to the invaders: they are predicted to face inevitable demise:

None of you will come back from here alive!

You will all die,

And our country will be blooming and free!

Никто из вас не вернется отсюда живым!

Вы все сдохнете,

А наша страна будет цветущей и свободной!

48Meanwhile, Russian civilians are portrayed as lifelong slaves, destined to persist in the dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Recent media discussions (Grigoryev, 2022) have frequently drawn parallels between the Russian Federation and the state of Oceania, a creation of the English writer that served as a parody of the Soviet Union. Striking similarities include Putin’s “new language”—such as the prohibition of the word “war” and the replacement term “special military operation”—and the presence of prolonged “moments of hate” in Russia lasting for hours, days, and years.

49Russia, by attacking Ukraine, is seen as bringing shame upon itself, compelling its citizens to fabricate justifications for their actions, as expressed in the song: “Then you will burn with shame and lie to your children” (“Потім з сорому горіти // І брехати своїм дітям”). The songwriters also anticipate that Russia will face accountability for war crimes: “For everything, my ‘big brother’, you will be held responsible!” (“За все, мій “старший брат”, // Будеш відповідати!”).

5. Conclusions

50The analysis of the enemy image allows us to draw the following conclusions. Firstly, the enemy is represented from various angles and in various typical manifestations: a chthonic enemy, a barbarian, an enemy who tramples on the values of Christianity, an enemy invader, a political figure and a propagandist. The stylistic development of the image is marked by thorough elaboration: its denotative basis is characterological features of the enemies, describing their inner qualities and external actions. This allows us to conclude that the authors of songs strive to counteract the invasion of the “alien” with all possible energy and stubborn determination to defeat him. The main qualities (anger, cruelty, fear, cowardice, deceit, deceitfulness, marauding) are represented at all levels of image analysis and the structure of the imagological context.

51Secondly, all the characteristics and conceptual dominants of the image represent the anti-values of the period. Some axiologemes of the heroic era (e.g. pride) are represented in the image of the enemy as anti-axiologemes (hubris as the basis of competition with God) and unfold in a different associative context. In general, it is possible to note a wide palette of conceptual areas representing the enemy, which is due to a number of factors. The fusion of mythopoetic, heroic and Christian worldviews determines not only the synthesis of the values that go back to them, but also their diffusion in the imagological space. The influence of the Christian picture of the world is the most significant: Christian anti-axiologemes dominate the representation of the enemy, including the enemy as a mythological monster and the enemy as a Barbarian.

52Third, the sensual component and the irrational primordial fear of the hostility of the surrounding world are very strong in the conceptualisation of the enemy. The most recurrent and semantically dense are the concepts of anger, hatred and fear/horror. The enemy is the generation of the emotion of fear. The destructive nature of this fear is emphasised by associative contextual links with the concepts of monster, murder and sin, and the image of the enemy is presented in a single perspective—anti‑value.

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Churchill Winston (22 June 1941), “Broadcast on the Soviet-German War”, online: <> (10 December 2023).

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Liudmyla Harmash, « The Image of the Enemy in Ukrainian Wartime Songs (2022–2023) »ILCEA [En ligne], 53 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 février 2024, consulté le 26 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Liudmyla Harmash

Université pédagogique de Kharkhiv (Ukraine)
Sorbonne Université (France – Pause)

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