LONDON — It was an emotional night even before one of the world’s most famous musicians showed up.
More than 1,000 members of London’s Ukrainian community were packed into a concert venue in the Brixton neighborhood to see Antytila, a popular Ukrainian rock band, deliver one of its first big performances since the war began a year ago.
The audience was totally into it, some swaying, others bobbing their heads to the beat, some even sobbing. As the band played, “Fortress Bakhmut,” a hard-rock battle hymn about the fight to hold onto the besieged city in eastern Ukraine, the crowd belted out each word.
Antytila, with its catchy mix of rock, pop and war songs, has become one of Ukraine’s biggest bands. They even made a music video with Ed Sheeran.
Toward the end of the show, Antytila’s lead singer, Taras Topolia, motioned backstage and two more microphones appeared. “I want to invite to this stage the legends,” Mr. Topolia said.
Out walked U2’s Bono and the Edge.
The crowd went nuts.
The show was a charity event and part of a wave of cultural diplomacy. The Kyiv government has courted foreign celebrities since the invasion, highlighting their expressions of support against Russian aggression in slick media campaigns. Ukraine has also deployed some of its top stars to travel the world and raise awareness, and cash, to help their fight against Russia.
It was also a reunion of sorts for Mr. Topolia, who has also served a battlefield medic, and Bono. The two performed together in a Kyiv subway station-turned-bomb shelter earlier in the war. Bono is one of several stars who have traveled to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, burnishing their own images by helping what is widely perceived, especially in Western capitals such as London, as a righteous cause.
“These musicians do not want to go to war, these people do not want to go to war,” Bono told the audience on Sunday.
The Edge, the lead guitarist for U2, strummed simple, well known chords. The crowd began to move in time.
“We want to say that this is not just a war about territory or sovereignty,” Bono went on. “This is a war about decency and dignity confronting domination and darkness. That’s why we’re here.”
He performed exactly one song, an old U2 hit, “Mothers of the Disappeared,” with Antytila backing him up. Bono wrote it more than three decades ago about the dirty wars in Latin America, but the lyrics seemed to fit the times:
Midnight, our sons and daughters,
Cut down, taken from us,
Hear their heartbeat,
We hear their heartbeat.
He dedicated the song to Ukrainian mothers and, before it was over, walked offstage.
With the crowd singing behind him, Bono left the war song to Mr. Topolia and his band to finish.