Brad Paisley is on a mission: to shine a light on the ongoing war in Ukraine, and to do all he can to help those in the war-torn country. The West Virginia native released “Same Here” earlier this year, which features Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, donating proceeds from the song to UNITED24, for their Rebuild Ukraine program.
Paisley also traveled to Ukraine, performing “Same Here” in St. Michael’s Square in Kyiv. Visiting the country in the middle of military conflict was a risk — and a big one — but once Paisley was invited, he never considered turning the invitation down.
“There was nothing you could have done, I think, to stop me once I was invited,” Paisley shared with Everything Nash and other outlets at a recent media event. “When I did the Zoom with President Zelensky, to record his lines for the song, he invited me. It was 45 minutes on the line, which was really a lot of time to talk to him.
“And we, of course, went into a lot of things that aren’t in the song, but fascinating when you break into the small talk with someone who’s fighting a war,” he continued. “It’s a fascinating thing because next thing you know, we’re talking about his kids and his wife, and my kids and my wife, and commonalities that seem so strange to talk about when there’s a country fighting for its survival.”
The Grand Ole Opry member worked with a couple of senators to get the clearance to be able to travel to Ukraine. Not immune to the danger, Paisley admits he was afraid, but even that wasn’t going to keep him from visiting the country that has captured his heart.
“It’s a crazy window you go through to get in and out, and they make assurances to you that it’s safe,” Paisley explained. “But I remember the security briefing when we went in, and that’s a moment where you think to yourself, ‘Well, what have I gotten myself into?’ But again, there’s nothing you could have done to stop me. There was definitely fear. I definitely felt fear in a way that I almost never do, and I’m not used to that feeling.”
Paisley wrote goodbye letters to his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and his sons, Huck and Jasper, before he left, unable to tell anyone else that he was even going until he had returned.
“I wrote my kids and wife letters before I left saying why I’m doing this,” Paisley recalled, “I just said, ‘I hope you know why I’m going, which is that I believe in this, and I believe that I’m helping. And I hope when you grow up and you have opportunities to make a difference, even if it’s scary, or seems like a risk, it’s worth it.'”
Of all of the experiences Paisley has had in his life and career, none will likely ever come close to impacting him as much as his visit to Ukraine, and performing “Same Here” in front of people who were, quite literally, in the fight of their lives.
“The overnight train ride through Ukraine, trying to sleep on a train both ways, and you’re in a war zone all night,” Paisley said. “And so, the threat I left with, ironically, is that I think that the city of Kyiv was doing its best to live defiantly at all costs, to thrive at all costs. People were going to work. There was traffic. There were kids getting off a school bus. And that’s what struck me was these little kids in their raincoats, with bookbags, holding hands as they go up the street to their parents after a day of school.”
Not long after Paisley safely returned from his trip to Ukraine, President Zelensky and his wife, Olena, tweeted a scene of kids running after an explosion –a sobering reminder of the danger Paisley was in, and the immense amount of work that needs to be done to help Ukraine.
“They had just gotten off the school bus,” Paisley recounted. “And it’s exactly what I saw, except in this case there was an explosion and screams, and the kids started running in fear. And I knew when I saw it as peaceful as that day was, that that’s what they’re living in between, and people living life in between the air raid sirens. Nobody takes life for granted in that situation.”
“Same Here” is part of Paisley’s new album, which is less light-hearted and more heartfelt and intentional than anything he has done in the past. In his new record, Paisley also touches on the ongoing opioid crisis in West Virginia, determined to this time use his voice in a way, perhaps, that he has never done before.
“I’ve done my best to say some things,” Paisley said. “I guess I felt like it was time to say something, for me.”
Find “Same Here” and all of Paisley’s music and upcoming shows at BradPaisley.com.