The biggest band in Ukraine will perform in Edinburgh this month, having released their first English language music.

Okean Elzy are Ukraine's most successful rock band, playing huge stadiums and arenas in their home country to thousands of devoted fans.

The group have toured the world, but this year will release their first album in English as well as embarking on a UK tour, including a date in Edinburgh.

Lead singer Sviastoslav 'Slava' Vakarchuk was born into the USSR, has a PHD in theoretical physics and is a former member of the Ukrainian parliament.

His first love, though, has always been music - even if it wasn't always readily accessible behind the Iron Curtain.

Mr Vakarchuk tells The Herald: "Some might say that it was a completely pitch black from a cultural point of view behind the Iron Curtain, and maybe that was true to some extent until the middle of the 80s.

“But after perestroika and the breaking of the ice between the US and the USSR it was different, it was a very turbulent time.

“You were free to do a lot of things but the irony was you didn’t have the chance to.

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“In the 60s and 70s they’d punish you for listening to some kinds of rock music, saying it’s anti-Soviet.

“At the end of the 80s when I was a kid it was fine, nobody cared about what you listened to or played, but it was difficult to find the real stuff.

“For example, I remember the first time I heard The Beatles was in 1987 when I was 12 – and I completely fell in love.

“I became a huge Beatles fan, you would have experienced it for 25 years at that time but it was new for me.

“The first time I saw them was on one of the very first Soviet late night shows, there was this black and white video of McCartney singing ‘Let It Be’ and I that was like, ‘wow, s*** man’. I remember being completely flabbergasted.

“That changed my whole trajectory, my obsession with The Beatles made me a musician.

"As usually happens, if The Beatles was your first love everything else follows that. The guys and I, our gang from school, were into old British rock like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd as well as blues and rock music from the east and the States.

“Then 1991 changed the whole perspective, not just for me but for kids all over the world, when grunge emerged: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana.

“I think that mixture of grunge and old classic British and American rock was my main influence, and you can add into that our basic Ukrainian, Slavic DNA – like you have your Celtic roots.

“Put all that into a cocktail and you can see where Okean Elzy comes from.”

Okean Elzy, which translates as Elza's Ocean, formed as teenagers in 1994 and after four or five years of hard graft became one of the biggest names in Ukraine.

The Herald: Okean Elzy in the studioOkean Elzy in the studio (Image: Supplied)

At a time of relative harmony between east and west they also toured across Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries, but the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea changed things forever.

Mr Vakarchuk says: "Yanukovych was, in my opinion, a disastrous president.

“We didn’t feel it as a band because we were the most popular band in the country, we played arenas and stadiums, and I think half of our tour itinerary would be in Russia.

“We were the only top artist in Russia who didn’t sing in Russian or English.

“We didn’t feel, as a band, anything bad but as a citizen I did feel it. It came closer and closer to the point where Ukrainians said ‘enough’, maidan occurred and the rest is history.”

That history is, sadly, bloody. For the past 10 years though, Mr Vakarchuk has been travelling to the frontline to perform for his motherland's troops.

He says: "The war in Ukraine didn’t start in 2022 like a lot of people think, it started in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and took over some parts of Donbas.

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“I’ve been playing for the troops since then, so when the full-scale invasion started I also scaled up my trips to the frontline – it became my full-scale.

“So far we’ve given 241 performances combining hospitals, liberated cities, town squares but the majority is at the frontline.

“I go there with only my guitar, early Bob Dylan style or Johnny Cash style, you don’t have any equipment, there’s no stage, your chair is a box of ammunition.

“It’s very basic but it gives you goosebumps, the feeling of where you are and what you’re doing.

“Every time I go for a tour with the band I kind of miss these things, because these little performances mean more for me than gigs in Madison Square Garden or the Albert Hall.”

Okean Elzy have just released their first English song, 'Voices Are Rising', with a full English album to follow at a later date.

Mr Vakarchuk learned the language from a very early age, but admits making the songwriting switch wasn't easy.

He explains: "My mother tongue is Ukrainian and I try to write in a language I feel rather than talk or even think.

“I can speak English, but when it comes to writing it’s a completely different story because you need to write what you feel. I can write what I feel in English and people can understand it but somehow it doesn’t sound cool. Even I as a listener can see that.

“I was lucky to have partners for most of the songs who were my co-writers and provided me with their good insight.

“It was a great experience to write songs with some great songwriters from Britain and the US and I really loved it. It’s like a new page for me, to some extent it feels like starting your career over, you’re 19 again and starting your new journey.”

He and Okean Elzy will play a charity gig in Edinburgh on April 19 as part of their Help for Ukraine tour, and it's with genuine emotion the frontman talks about Scotland.

Mr Vakarchuk says: "I’ve been to Edinburgh twice with my family and I can tell you I love the city, and I love Scotland generally so much.

“It’s one of the best countries I’ve ever seen, the scenery of the Highlands and Edinburgh. I haven’t been to Aberdeen or Glasgow but Edinburgh is amazing and I’m very much looking forward to coming back to play.

"I have an opportunity to say how grateful Ukrainians are to all British people - English, Scots, Welsh, whoever – for supporting Ukraine.

“We see the support, and we feel it too. Not only in your words but also in actions."