The 2022 Grammys were already set to be a history-making night, but a surprise appearance from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sealed the deal.
Midway through the telecast of the 64th annual awards ceremony on Sunday night in Las Vegas, the embattled leader offered a plea to all those watching around the world amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion of his nation.
In a pre-taped video from a Kyiv bunker, Zelenskyy delivered a powerful speech reportedly filmed within 48 hours of the broadcast, according to Variety, as part of a special tribute to Ukraine.
Drawing striking connections between war and the power of music, Zelenskyy asked, “The war. What is more opposite of music?” before relaying the tragic impact of the invasion.
“The silence of ruined cities and killed people,” he said. “Our children draw swooping rockets, not shooting stars. Over 400 children have been injured and 153 children died, and we will never see them drawing. Our parents are happy to wake up in the morning in bomb shelters but alive. Our loved ones don’t know if we will be together again. The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence.”
Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals. Even to those who can’t hear them,” Zelenskyy continued. “But the music will break through anyway. We defend our freedom. To live. To love. To sound. On our land, we are fighting Russia, which brings horrible silence with its bombs.”
He concluded his remarks with a call to the celebrity-packed event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena: “Fill the silence with your music. Fill it today. Tell our story. Tell the truth about the war on your social networks and TV. Support us in any way you can, but not silence. And then peace will come.”
Zelenskyy went on to say he holds a dream for the cities that have been hardest hit by the war, including Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mariupol.
“I have a dream of them living,” he said. “And free. Free like you on the Grammy stage.”
The video introduced a performance of John Legend’s new song, “Free,” which featured a poem read by Ukrainian refugee Lyuba Yakimchuk and accompaniment by Ukrainian musicians Siuzanna Iglidan and Mika Newton.
The stirring performance ended by directing viewers to a donation page to support the war-torn region’s refugees.
Prior to the Grammys telecast, rumors swirled earlier this month about whether Zelenskyy would appear at the Academy Awards with both co-host Amy Schumer and one of Hollywood’s most vocal Ukraine supporters, Sean Penn, supporting the idea.
But much to Penn’s dismay ― the actor threatened to “smelt” his Oscars in public if the academy chose not to let Zelenskyy speak ― the Ukrainian president did not appear during the ceremony.
Instead, the Oscars featured a 30-second moment of silence, which ended with a plea to those tuning in to the awards show: “We ask you to support Ukraine in any way you are able. #StandWithUkraine.”
Watch Legend’s performance below.