Atlas Festival – Lock Down due to War

Vlad Yaremchuk is 25 years young but nevertheless the head of booking of the biggest music festival in Ukraine. Located in Kyiv, the Atlas Festival emerged in 2015 as one of the main festival destinations in Eastern European. The lineup of previous editions featured artists like The Chemical Brothers, Placebo, Martin Garrix, Liam Gallagher, The Black Eyed Peas and ASAP Rocky. In 2019, when it pulled over 500.000 festival goers for the second time in a row, the event joined the community of festivals as part of ESNS-Exchange.


When in 2020, the pandemic globally changed normal life, Atlas Festival went into a lockdown that persists until today. When festivals in most countries were able to take place this year, the Atlas Festival found itself in a situation making it impossible to even think about staging a music festival. 

It is the Russian invasion of Ukraine that caused atrocities and is leaving civilized nations and citizens speechless. Even ongoing, the regime in the Kremlin continues to act in a toxic and deadly manner that, like the pandemic, better be treated with intensive medical treatment. Unfortunately, no vaccine is available that is able to cure such kind of warlord behaviour. 

Vlad Yaremchuk

Talking to Vlad instead is a mind-opener. When he says it is a matter of perspective, the meaning of his words comes together between the lines with a serious message. The news situation in the media about the war in Ukraine is one thing. But it makes a difference when someone mentions in a phone call that sirens can be heard. 

With this in mind, ESNS-Exchange asked Vlad Yaremchuk what Ukraine needs most these days, about the efforts and engagement by the aid mission of Music Saves UA, and the current status of Atlas Festival itself.



What kind of support do the people in Ukraine currently need most?
There are three categories: military, money and information, and I believe all of these are intertwined. 

For some, it is a hard pill to swallow, but if not for our military, who are sacrificing their lives daily to protect us, we would not be here having this conversation right now. The weapons we are getting from other countries play a key role in what is happening in this war. Nothing will help us more than giving us the means to protect ourselves and drive the invaders away from our borders. If you understand that, make sure people next to you and make your government understand that too so that we keep getting weapons and tech needed to fight back. You can also donate to funds that help the military directly. For example, Come Back Alive, who are doing some incredible work. You might have heard that Ukrainians crowdfunded a purchase of a satellite recently. Other countries are crowdfunding Bayraktars. All of these cases are really inspiring and show our unity.

If you are not comfortable with donations to the military, you can donate to humanitarian causes. Within the music world, you have our project, Music Saves UA, where we raise money via music to provide humanitarian help on the ground. Another great project is Musicians Defend Ukraine which focuses on raising donations to help those musicians who chose to give up their work and art to defend the country. There are dozens of other incredible causes, and I would highly recommend donating to local grassroots funds and projects compared to huge international brands that usually are less efficient and much slower in their operations.

And then we have the informational front. Keep talking about Ukraine. Bring it up in your conversation with friends and colleagues, post about it, show that you are not afraid of the Kremlin’s oil and gas blackmailing, fight against disinformation and prevent it from spreading around you. You do not need to get your wallet out of your pocket for this, yet you can still make a real difference.

All the support we have been getting is incredible, and we are eternally grateful to everyone who finds the time and mental energy to help us. It is an exhausting marathon, and trust us when we say we are tired, but we have no choice but to keep going.

Atlas Festival – Humanitarian Headquarter

What kind of topics are currently on the agenda of Music Saves UA?
On the humanitarian front, we are still helping with the logistics for humanitarian supplies, delivering ~50 tons of humanitarian help to the hotspots throughout the last month. Now, we also started to focus more on evacuating civilians from the hotspots, helping around 5000 people to evacuate last month, mainly from the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. Since we established Music Saves UA, we helped deliver almost 450 tons of supplies and helped evacuate more than 11,000 people from hotspots. This summer, we also helped a refugee shelter Bakota Hub do some renovations and intend to focus more on shelters in the near future.

On the informational, cultural and fundraising side, we tried to get as many Ukrainian artists booked to summer festivals as possible to represent Ukraine, spread the message and raise funds. We’ve had incredible collaborations with Rock For People, Pohoda Festival, Sziget and others. We helped them book artists as well as travelled ourselves to make a Music Saves UA tent where we would show the reality of the war, talk to people, share our experiences, talk to the media, and collect donations. We are very grateful to those who welcomed us at their festivals, as we believe nothing works better than being able to talk to people directly and face-to-face.

Please describe the current situation of the Atlas Festival…
We tried to keep ourselves as busy as possible these seven months to help our country as much as we can in a multitude of ways. We have people fighting at the frontlines, volunteers delivering humanitarian help, and part of us are running operations at Music Saves UA. Many of us were working on the Save Ukraine and Embrace Ukraine international TV marathons that took place simultaneously in more than 50 cities and were live on TV and online in plenty of countries while raising millions of euros for humanitarian help. In July, during the week when Atlas Festival was supposed to happen, we had a four-hour fundraising live stream with dozens of celebrity guests to cheer people up and remind them that we are still there, fighting alongside everyone for our freedom. During the live stream, we raised money for 50 mobile solar stations that would help the defenders and civilians in hotspots charge all of their electronics.

You said Atlas Festival is trying to keep its team on board. How does this work, and how many people are you?
Helping Ukraine and keeping our team intact are our biggest priorities. As of now, we have around 40 people who work on the festival around the year. When the war started, we gave away most of the stuff we had in our warehouses by giving it to the military, but we could not afford to lose our team. We spent years looking for the right people and together we pulled through the toughest of situations like all kinds of crazy last-minute emergencies at the festivals and then the COVID pandemic while accumulating priceless experience. This invasion is another challenge that we have to tackle. We can rebuild everything, but it’s impossible to find another team like this. Once the war is over, we want to keep making the biggest festival in Ukraine and celebrate our victory. Until that day comes, however, we try our best to keep the team busy with useful work and keep looking for opportunities to raise money for Ukraine while also paying our staff.

The Russian attacks sustain, and it is impossible to run a festival safely in a country attacked by missile strikes and massive bomb shelling. Can you imagine promoting a special edition of the Atlas Festival somewhere abroad, elsewhere in Europe?
This is something we are considering right now and during my visits to music conferences this season, I will be looking for partners with whom we can collaborate on a project like that. It would be an interesting challenge and a great opportunity to exchange experiences with our foreign colleagues. We believe there is a lot we can learn from them, but also a lot we can teach them. That will also allow our team to focus on a larger project within our field of expertise. It is hard to tell when festivals like ours will be possible in Ukraine again, and we want to keep ourselves in good shape. We were discussing doing something abroad before COVID happened, and now it makes even more sense. We are also keen to co-promote regular events abroad as well, especially in the neighbouring countries. Of course, whatever we end up doing, will have a lot of Ukrainian DNA in it and will have a social and fundraising element to it, like everything we do these days.

For more information, please check;

Atlas Festival

Music Saves UA (One of the favourite songs of Vlad Yarmenchuk is ‘Halogenix – Odesa’, which is also featured on the charity album ‘Together with Ukraine’)

Text: Manfred Tari