Vanity Fair: Darth Vader’s Voice Emanated From War-Torn Ukraine


As the war raged, Ukrainian tech workers at Respeecher hurried to bring back James Earl Jones’s legendary voice for Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  • On February 24, when Russia had just invaded Ukraine, people on the other side of the world were relying on Bogdan Belyaev, and the project was the culmination of a passion he’d had since childhood: StarWars.
  • Belyaev is a 29-year-old synthetic-speech artist at the Ukrainian start-up Respeecher: “There is a rule of two walls. You need to be behind two walls. The first wall is taking the impact, and the second one is stopping the small shrapnel.”
  • Respeecher employees in Kyiv also soldiered on while hunkered down. Dmytro Bielievtsov, the company’s cofounder and CTO, got online in a theater where tabletops, books, and more had been stacked in front of windows in case of blasts. Programmers “training” the A.I. to replicate Jones’s voice and editors piecing together the output worked from corridors in the interior of their apartments. One took refuge in an ancient brick “basement” no bigger than a crawl space.
  • Alex Serdiuk, the CEO and cofounder of the voice-cloning company, takes pride in their contribution to Obi-Wan Kenobi and wants the world to know that Ukrainians helped make that particular trip to the galaxy far, far away possible, even under horrible circumstances.
We create places to work for people, we create jobs, we pay them money, we contribute to the Ukrainian economy, and that’s quite meaningful. But also, hopefully more people will hear about Ukraine—about our tech community, about our start-ups—because of it.
  • Respeecher’s work has continued, mainly on projects that are still secret. “It’s been hard,” Serdiuk says. “A 44- million nation is in pain. Many refugees, many civilians died, many people in the army died because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We all have the additional [responsibility] of helping each other. You’ve seen how united and resilient Ukrainians are at this moment, but in terms of how we live now: We wake up, we go to work, and then we go home and try to get some sleep. I’m currently separated from my family. So my wife and daughter, they’re abroad. I brought them to the border as soon as it all started.”

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