The Ukraine Crisis, as Told Through Hip-Hop

Weapons cocked, a group of well-armed young men rap about their hatred for the government. It sounds like a scene straight from a ‘90s gangsta rap video, but it isn't -- it's from the frontlines of Ukraine's violent east.

Inspired by the recent turmoil, Ukraine's young, burgeoning hip-hop community has taken to interpreting its country's politics through its music, providing an unlikely and unfiltered window into the unfolding scene there. Their music videos, posted on YouTube, tell the story: Anger toward former President Viktor Yanukovych, distrust of the interim government, anxiety over the annexation of Crimea, and taunts for government forces in the east.

Here, then, is the hip-hop guide to the Ukrainian crisis:

Many have forgotten that the crisis began as a peaceful protest against Yanukovych. Under his rule, corruption in Ukraine spiraled out of control, with Ukraine ranking 144 out of 177 on Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Resentment toward Yanukovych's presidency and a desire among many Ukrainians to forge ahead finally crystallized in the Maidan protest movement.

Cue the following video. Made in December 2013, the song features Ukrainian YouTube personality Michael Shchur rapping about the corruption of Yanukovych's regime while walking through the Maidan at night. Referring to Yanukovych and his decadent lifestyle paid for out of the state coffers, Shchur sums up the sense of palatable disgust: "Your childhood dream became a reality/You have shoes made of ostrich leather, a couple Italian suits/You got them from nowhere, almost for free."

Fast forward to March and the crisis's dynamics shift dramatically. Yanukovych had fled the capital and the stock of right-wing nationalist groups, such as Right Sector, is rising after playing a critical role in battling the Berkut riot police. Fears of a nationalist revival are only exacerbated by an ultimately doomed effort to strip Russian of its status as one of Ukraine's minority languages. The inclusion of some right-wing nationalists in the interim government and a virulent Russian propaganda effort to brand the government in Kiev as fascist, contributing to fears, especially among the Russian minority, that the nationalist right is ascending.

The following video is indicative of this sentiment and is directed toward the "Banderists," a reference to Stephan Bandera, a highly controversial figure. Ukrainian nationalists view Bandera as a hero of independence who fought against Soviet oppression; Soviet and Russian history frames Bandera as a fascist and Nazi collaborator. The chorus of the song, "Bandera is a faggot," summarizes feelings in Ukraine's east toward the nationalist groups and Bandera. In criticizing what many in the east see as the pro-European leanings of Ukrainian nationalists and the decadence of the West, the video adds, "So you want a lot of tasty stuff?/ You really want it? -- suck Russian dick."

As tensions heighten, the country moves closer to the brink of war. Russia annexes Crimea later in March, bringing relations between Russia and the West to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Here, the Ukrainian rapper Yarmak tries on a more civil tone in an attempt to broker a dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. Directed at supporters of the Crimean annexation, Yarmak argues that all sides have suffered: "Come and sit near me/ Let's share the brother's pain/ I will tell about Crimea/ And you will tell me about Beslan and Volgograd," referring to the 2004 siege of a school in the Russian city of Beslan that left more than 300 hostages dead and two December 2013 suicide bombings that left 34 people dead in Volgograd.

By early April, fighting has broken out in the east. Mobs and militias seize government buildings and proclaim their independence from Kiev. In a call to arms, a militia in Lugansk, one flashpoint in the east, releases a rap video. With a Russian flag hanging in the background and fighters clutching Kalashnikovs and RPGs, they proclaim hatred for the government in Kiev and taunt the West: "We do not need your NATO/ We do not want your gay pride parades for our children." The song is full of references to Slavic brotherhood with Russia and the militia calls on the residents of Lugansk to put down the bottle and join the militia in fighting the Western-backed fascists.

In a similar video, the Russian Orthodox Army trashes the West and the ruling government, all the while professing the virtue of traditional values. The video stars Andrey Donskoy, a musician turned paramilitary fighter, who begins the video by rapping, "Freedom is a rare bird in this land/ If you don't stand for it you could lose everything." While saying hello to all his "southeastern homies," Donskoy raps verse after verse of Russian nationalism and describes their violent struggle as one waged in defense of the values of the Russian Orthodox Church. The chorus, which serves as a battle chant, helps brand the militia's odd combination of violence and religious values, saying: "For every fighter, we go to the end/ Until glorious victory on the battlefield/ Russian Orthodoxy!"


via YouTube


Iran Is Deploying Drones in Iraq. Wait, What? Iran Has Drones?

With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham showing no sign of letting up its military offensive in northern Iraq, Iran is moving to bolster the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Tehran has reportedly sent senior Revolutionary Guard commanders to advise the government in Baghdad and is sending planeloads of materiel to support the Iraqi army. A perhaps more surprising development: Iran is deploying drones in Iraqi skies.

Iran has been developing drones since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and although the military capabilities of those drones have been frequently disputed, Tehran has supplied drones to its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, and deployed drones in Syria. Its fleet of drones vary in technological sophistication but are a testament to Iran's commitment to innovative military technology, even in the face of Western sanctions.


Iran's first drone, the Mohajer, was developed by the country's armed forces during the Iran-Iraq war to provide surveillance and intelligence. WIth Iranian forces sustaining heavy losses against their Iraqi opponents, the drone was developed to reduce casualties and prevent Iranian troops from walking into ambushes. The drone was at one point reportedly equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, which would make it one of the first weaponized drones.

A variation of the early model reportedly is still in use. This 2012 video shows what is believed to be a Mohajer-variant operating in the skies over Syria:


The Mirsad, Arabic for "ambush," is an updated version of the Mohajer and has caused all kinds of nightmares for the Israeli military. Iran is thought to have supplied Hezbollah forces in Lebanon with a stock of Mirsad drones, which the terror group has used to penetrate Israeli air defenses. In 2012, one of the drones entered Israeli air space, spent 30 minutes over the town of Nahariya, then returned to Lebanon. The Israeli air force failed to intercept it.  

"Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address, during which he claimed responsibility for the drone. "It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine ... This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want."


Although little is known about the actual capabilities of Iran's drones, its leaders are eager to show them off as the latest and greatest in military technology. Below, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seen at a 2010 unveiling ceremony for the Karar drone, which is capable of carrying an explosive load. The name means "striker" in Farsi.

Powered by a turbojet engine with a 250-pound bomb slung underneath and capable of carrying munition as heavy as 450 pounds, the Karrar has a purported range of 600 miles, which is still short of reaching Israel from Iran. When it was unveiled, military experts argued that the Karrar was built more for domestic consumption than for its military value.


Named for the Farsi word for "swallow," the Ababil is a reconnaissance drone that Iran has reportedly deployed in the skies over Iraq in response to the latest crisis. Like other Iranian drones, the Ababil has been deployed widely in the Middle East, including in Israel by Hezbollah, and in Syria. In 2012, Syrian rebels captured an Ababil and posted a video of the vehicle (it's the larger of the two):

A weaponized version of the Ababil has also penetrated Israeli airspace on multiple occasions. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, an Ababil loaded with at least 60 pounds of explosives made it to the outskirts of Haifa before being shot down by an Israeli fighter jet. Another was shot down over Western Galilee. A third was knocked out of the sky near the Lebanese city of Tyre.


The Fotros might be described as the Iranian equivalent of the American Predator. With a reported range of more than 1,200 miles and the ability to stay in the air for 30 hours, the Fotros is equipped with missiles and serves a similar combat function to its American equivalent. Although it's unclear whether the plane's actual capabilities measure up to the way Iranian military officials describe it, the Fotros has been touted as a strategic step forward by Iran. "This drone is able to carry out reconnaissance missions and carry air-to-surface rockets for combat operations,'' state media quoted Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan as saying when the drone was unveiled in last year.

In the video below, the Fotros can be seen at a trade expo and taking off from a runway.


U.S. armed forces probably don't see it as a compliment, but the Yasir is a ripoff of an American design. After capturing an American ScanEagle, a relatively small surveillance drone, Iran announced in 2012 that it had begun production on a copy. Last year, Iran unveiled the resulting vehicle, which appears to differ little from the American version. The American ScanEagle has a 10-foot wingspan and can stay aloft for about 20 hours, cruising at about 70 miles per hour.

The ScanEagle isn't the only American drone captured by Iran. In 2011, Iran claimed to have hacked and captured an RQ-170 stealth drone, one of the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal. Iran claims to have copied that drone as well.

The models they have shown off, however, aren't the most convincing.