Why did Michelle Obama give a Ukrainian pop star the Women of Courage award?

March 4

First lady Michelle Obama with Eurovision singer Ruslana Lyzhychko of Ukranie. (Jewel Samad/ AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday morning, first lady Michelle Obama and Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom presented 10 women from around the world the Secretary of State’s Women of Courage award. They include a pioneer of the human rights movement in Tajikistan, a prominent leader in the field of maternal health and … a pop music star who won Eurovision in 2004?

These women are being recognized for their “exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.”

So how does a pop star from Ukraine make the list?

Ruslana Lyzhychko -- her fans call her Ruslana, first name only, like Madonna -- rose to fame when she won the Eurovision competition for her performance of the song "Wild Dances."  For the uninitiated, Eurovision is a "song contest" between representative musicians and bands from European countries. Winners include many well-known names including ABBA and Celine Dion, but the competition is best-known for its often over-the-top and cheesy music. It's been described as "kitschy, genre-bending, makes no sense" and even "a trainwreck dry ice, pleather, men in boxes, operatic vampires and unfortunate babydoll outfits"

These days, Ruslana sings with the protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square.

She took the streets during the November protests and quickly became a voice of the protesters. Ruslana spent long, cold nights onstage, often at the iconic blue piano, singing and rallying crowds as riot police rounded in. Her longest performances on the protests stage -- singing her own songs and the national anthem -- lasted up to 10 hours.

"I think of myself as a volunteer ... showing people that we need to be here because there is no other way,” she said to Reuters in December. "Russia is our past, Europe must be our future," she explained.

Even though Ruslana continues to be best known for her music, this isn't the pop star’s first foray into politics. Hercareer in activism and humanitarian work began long before the protests started in 2013. She was an active participant in the 2004 Orange Revolution, became the first ever UNICEF National Ambassador in Ukraine in 2005, was speaking out for renewable energy in 2008 and now acts as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

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