Myroslav Kuvaldin: Music star of Nigerian root speaks on being “black”, taking arms for Ukraine against Russia
Myroslav Kuvaldin is bigger than just a name, in him are multiple stars of personalities gracefully packed into one big galaxy of greatness. Basking in the breeze of life in Ukraine while growing up, he might not see himself as “different” apart from being one of the notable voices to emerge from the serene streets of Kyiv.
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However, to some he is a TV presenter and songwriter; to others, he is one of the early Raggae music stars to emerge from Ukraine since its independence– a voice in the book of the country’s history since 1991 when it broke away from the defunct Soviet Union.
But in between the two sides of Myroslav is a man proudly sharing parity of heritage between two different countries he dearly loves.
Connecting two identities together through music
Myroslav was born and grew up in Ukraine, under the tutelage of his mother and her white family members. He was the distinct odd in the pack. With his black skin and mane—a signpost of his African ancestry—he has always been confronted with quite amusing questions of identity. But against all odds, he has successfully survived the tag of a “foreigner” in his motherland.
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Through his music style which is deeply rooted in Africa and his quite impressive media career, Myroslav has become a voice synonymous with Ukraine. His love for the country is so deep that when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in one of the most brutal war attacks in modern history, he chose to stay back, enrol in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and fight on the side of the oppressed.
At the same time, he does not hide his love for Nigeria, the country of his father. Myroslav described the attitude and culture of Ukraine and Africa’s most populous nation as ones that are unique and similar.
He told Legit.ng:
“I will tell you a secret: Ukraine in general is very similar to Nigeria. When I first came to Nigeria in 2004, I realized that we have very similar people, and similar aspirations - to live well. As the slogan goes in one lottery "car, apartment, money…" Of course, as everywhere, both in Ukraine and Nigeria there is a division into rich and poor, especially 20 years ago. Near Kyiv there is an elite region called Koncha Zaspa, and in Lagos there is Victoria Islands, which is very similar. Everyone around these areas is poor; while they get by by selling things in the street, there is an area with the 1% of people who are wealthy.
Now the situation in Ukraine is leveling off, the general standard of living is increasing.”
Knowing Nigeria as second home and sharing its name
As Myroslav grew up, he saw the need to reconnect with his father’s country–Nigeria. The last time he saw his dad was when he was four. So, in 2004, he set the wheel at dawn with BBC journalist Olga Betko. They both headed to Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, where he came in search of a spotlight on his history.
"Something is missing. I know only half of myself,” Myroslav told Betko in an interview.
His dad, a Nigerian student, came to study in the mid-1970s, having been one of the beneficiaries of the "internationalist" image, and free higher education offered by the Soviet Union to students from developing countries.
It was there he met the Raggae musician’s mother who was also a student of medicine at the Soviet medical institute. He graduated in 1980 and left.
Myroslav came to Nigeria 24 years later to find his father. Although he could not see him, his relatives were happy to meet one of their sons who returned home.
The irony, however, is that in Nigeria he was referred to as “white” while in Ukraine he was perceived as “black.”
“I met all my relatives, except for Dad. Because my Dad had gone to Fiji already when I came to Nigeria and has been living there for some time. Interestingly, people in Nigeria and Ukraine are the same. Without any racist connotations, looking at me, someone can call me “black,” then in Nigeria, I was also called “white”. They were saying: “here is some white man claiming to be your relative. What should we do about him?,” he told Legit.ng.
He was joyfully given the name Omamuli (probably from Edo or Delta).
“They told me it means "a child who has found his home," Myroslav recounted.
Why war in Ukraine should be a concern for Africa
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, many conspiracy theories have been flying in Africa over Russia’s right to invade Ukraine and Ukraine’s right to freedom. But to Myroslav, the ongoing war which has seen many people displaced, big houses reduced to rubbles and thousands killed, is about freedom and protecting the independence of Ukraine as a nation.
While many African countries have been lost in the Russia-backed propaganda, Myroslav believed it is time for the African political leaders to get the “message” clear: Ukraine is only fighting for its freedom and independence.
The Reggae star described as sad the perception of Russia as the old Soviet Union, as he called for support from Africa to Ukraine.
“It seems to me that the message is very clear - every African country once dreamed of and fought for its independence. This is the kind of independence that Ukraine is currently fighting for, and that is why I think that this message will be absolutely clear to people in Africa. If the politicians of many African countries support Russia, then probably it is because they are somehow dependent on Russia or may think they are dependent.
“Perhaps some still see Russia as the Soviet Union that once helped Africa. But Russia is a completely different country, it is not the Soviet Union. Again, many people from Africa once studied in the Soviet Union and returned home with Russian narratives, and are now involved in politics in their homelands. But I would like the people of Africa not to mix up Russia and the Soviet Union, and to recognize that Ukraine is fighting for its independence.”
Dropping mic for rifle and risking life for Ukraine
Myroslav is currently on the war front, with the Territorial Defence of the Ukrainian Armed Force, fighting for Ukraine against the Russian force.
On why he dropped the mic for the guns, Myroslav said with the current situation in Ukraine, it is “impossible to be indifferent or to stand aside.”
“Some may join the army, while others may continue to make Ukraine's economy work. Those who can bake bread, bake bread; those who can sow it, sow it; someone needs to harvest it, some are needed to protect all of this, some are needed to sell goods. But even if it’s not necessary to join the Ukrainian Army, our people are ready to pay money to join it (I'm kidding, of course).
Long story short, we do now have enough people willing to join the army. By the way, Putin did not take this into account either. He probably thought he would fight 50,000 regular army soldiers, but in fact Putin started a fight with a nation of 40 million. Because in Ukraine, everyone will do everything for victory,” he said.
The truth on Ukraine's side
On Ukraine winning the war, the music star maintained that the country will survive Russia’s intimidation and pull the biggest upset in war history. He told Legit.ng that he is convinced Ukraine will continue to put its name on the global map.
“I am convinced that Ukraine is now putting an end to the question of whether it exists as a country or not. I am convinced that we are all participants in a victorious war for Ukraine, and I am sure that the truth is on Ukraine’s side.”