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Why Superman singer took a risky journey to Kyiv to film with Ukrainian National Orchestra

The Superman singer is playing live in Agoura Hills on April 25
Caroline Feraday
/
KCLU
The Superman singer is playing live in Agoura Hills on April 25

Ventura County-based John Ondrasik from Five for Fighting wrote a song about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Protest songs have a long history in the US - dating back to the Revolutionary War's Yankee Doodle, to the music of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Where are the protest song writers of today, was a question Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik asked himself, as he watched images of the war in Ukraine.

22 years ago, Five for Fighting’s hit song Superman was nominated for a Grammy Award and the song was adopted at the time to honor the victims and first responders in the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers. Perhaps surprising, as singer John Ondrasik went by a name that sounded more heavy metal than heartfelt.

"It was the late 90s, and the record company came to me and said, 'You know, John, nobody can pronounce your last name. The male singer songwriter's dead. You need to come up with a band name.' And I'm a big hockey fan and that day I was at an L.A. Kings game, and especially back in the day, there were fights in hockey, and if you're in a fight in hockey, you go to the penalty box and you get five minutes for fighting and they call it five for fighting," he explained to KCLU in an exclusive interview.

"So when they asked me for a band name, I sarcastically spit out 'five for fighting', expecting them to hate it. And they're like, 'We love it!' I'm like, 'You guys are nuts,' because it sounds like I should be opening for Metallica, but here we are...Five for Fighting," said Ondrasik.

John Ondrasik from Five For Fighting lives in Ventura County
Caroline Feraday
/
KCLU
John Ondrasik from Five For Fighting lives in Ventura County

Two years ago, struck by images on the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ondrasik sat down at his piano in his Westlake Village home and the music flowed. Can one man, President Zelensky, save the world, he wondered. That question became a song, and that became a perilous journey to play it in person with the Ukrainian National Orchestra.

"It's [the song] certainly recognized the fortitude of all Ukrainians. But this was right after we [the U.S.] offered him [Zelensky] a plane ticket and he said, 'no, send me some Stinger missiles' - knowing that he probably be dead with his wife and three little girls within days. And I'm like, where have we seen that around the world in the last 20, 30 years?"

"So off we go to Kyiv," he tells. "It took us two days to get there. We speed to the border. Nobody speaks English. You walk a mile across the border. Everybody's coming the other way. We're going INTO Ukraine," he recalls.

"We get to Kyiv and they allowed us to film in a sacred ground at the Antonov airport - blown up airport. In that hangar is the symbol of Ukrainian independence, which is an airplane. It's called the Mriya. It's the largest cargo plane in the world and early in the war, Putin went to the Antonov airport and blew it up. So it's in shambles. But we literally were able to put the orchestra in front of this plane, in this blown up hangar and perform the song and it was incredibly emotional," said Ondrasik.

John Ondrasik traveled to Kyiv and filmed a music video with the Ukrainian National Orchestra
Can One Man Save The World Music Video
John Ondrasik traveled to Kyiv and filmed a music video with the Ukrainian National Orchestra
Can One Man Save The World music video

He made the journey in the early days of the war, and says he experienced some air raids and a severe lack of sleep.

"We had air raids and you run into the basement...and we probably slept two hours in the five days we were there," he said.

"One of the memories I'll never forget is the orchestra played with vigour and emotion, and we finished the song and there was like this moment of silence that felt like, you know, two weeks is probably 10 second, but it was a lot of weight," he said.

"In those few seconds, you felt why we were there. You felt the weight of the Ukrainian people. You felt their fortitude. And then it hit me that virtually nobody there understands the lyrics. They don't know the words. So it was all about music, this sharing of music that brought this emotion and that situation. And it really kind of reminded me of the unique power of music to bring people together. And it was an incredibly powerful moment," said Ondrasik.

Five For Fighting With A String Quartet are playing live at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on Thursday, April 25.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.