Blinken Rocks the Free World in Kyiv Amid Tensions


In the heart of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took to the stage of a bustling bar, Barman Dictat, seeking to lift the spirits of a war-worn Ukrainian populace. Coming off a long day of predicting a promising outlook for Ukraine amid the Russian aggression, Blinken, a passable musician in his own right, chose to use music as his messenger.

“I know these are terribly trying times,” Blinken addressed the overflowing crowd packed into the subterranean setting of the venue. In the shadows of tense military activity in the northeastern region, particularly in Kharkiv, he acknowledged the immense hardships faced by Ukraine’s citizens and soldiers.

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“But they must remember, and you must remember,” he added, “the United States stands with you, and a significant portion of the world is in your corner. They aren’t fighting for just Ukraine’s freedom. They are engaged in a struggle for the liberty of the world, and this free world is equally behind them.”

Strumming the strings of a vibrant red guitar, Blinken, with local ensemble 19.99 at his side, initiated the melodic strains of Neil Young’s hit “Rockin’ in the Free World”. The familiar tune, with its rousing refrain, served as an inspirational rallying call to Ukrainians, encouraging their ongoing resistance against Russian force and the unwavering pursuit of their western aspirations, despite suffering military setbacks. One such setback compelled President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to call off all of his imminent foreign visits.

“Rockin’ in the Free World,” a classic from 1989, might seem at face value to be an ode to the splendors of life in the unrestricted western world, free from the restraints of communism or authoritarian regimes. However, more discerning listeners will note its actual theme – a heart-wrenching commentary on the debilitating effects of homelessness, addiction, and poverty rampant in the so-called free world. Still, given the dire situation, one might interpret Blinken’s choice of song as a stirring call to overcome adversity by remaining steadfast in the pursuit of peace and freedom.

Delivering his remarks to students and educators at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Blinken imparted, “I’ve come to Ukraine with a message: You are not alone.” He reiterated his support in subsequent statements, reminding, “Never bet against Ukraine.”

However, as Blinken belted out the anthemic chorus of “keep on rockin’ in the free world,” with the situation near and around Kharkiv worsening, and Zelenskyy grappling with the developing crisis, the secretary’s musical moral support was met with some skepticism.

Oleksandr Kraiev, a Kyiv-based analyst, recognized the importance of Blinken’s visit but criticized his decision to spend some time at a fabled local establishment, arguing it was not entirely appropriate in light of the ongoing tensions. Kraiev argued that the average Ukrainian found the act rather bewildering, considering the harshness of the wartime atmosphere.

Despite the criticism, U.S. officials associated with Blinken downplayed the negative comments, asserting that had the event been deemed inappropriate, the secretary would not have participated.

Regardless of the reception of his musical performance, it did not overshadow the overall optimism Blinken projected throughout his visit. Accompanied by a full delegation and a press corps, Blinken, undeterred by the intense security, was able to engage with a variety of locals – university students, civic leaders, businesspeople, and everyday bar-goers. He even opted to spend the night in the city, a departure from all but one of his prior wartime visits.

In the end, it might be the chorus and opening lines of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” that his visit is remembered for. As the band hit the opening notes, Blinken humorously declared: “I don’t know if we can pull this off.” What followed were moments of music that will likely live on long after the echoes fade away, according to the official State Department transcript: “(Music was played.)”