Together As One: Ukrainian artists comment on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

10 mins read

Most of us feel utterly powerless in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but even from afar, we can help those in need and try to speak with a united and strong voice against this aggression. Our new series of brief interviews with several artists of the Ukrainian independent music scene is one of such steps we take to assist those most affected by the continuing conflict.

Today, we give you our recent interview with Uzhgorod based death metal / metallic hardcore band Obrij (Обрій) and alt rockers Shiva The Destructor from Kyiv.

Where are you at the moment and where were you at the very beginning of the invasion? How it looked and felt like from your perspective?

Obrij (Обрій): At the beginning of the war most of us were in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. It is right on the border with Slovakia, so it is quite far from the actual conflict. However out drummer Peter is currently in Kyiv, our capital, and here is what he has to say:

“At the moment of the attack (Feb 24, 5 AM) I was sleeping after nighshift (I work at a bar in Kyiv). The first day (I mean DAY specifically) was very uncertain, but the night was intense, as the fear and panic were building up. Also we had problems with shelters. In my area there are on three shelters, two of them are inactive at the moment. The third shelter (the active one) is a cellar under a restaurant, but there are no proper conditions there. So we deym with my wifeecided to turn our flat into a shelter and are satisfied with this decision. Right now when I am writing this it is the fifth day of war. First three days were tough, but now we are used to watch the news 24/7, to the sounds of sirens and to the sounds of bombings. As I am writing this, I sit in a bathroom with my wife and her sister, as it is safer here compared to the other parts of the appartment. We really scared, as the other part of Kyiv was striken by a ballistic missile, and this can be done again anywhere. Russians don’t know what to do with out army’s fierce resistance, so they began to attack the civilians. Today Kharkiv was bombed by Grad. They fucking bomb civilians! We’re staying strong, try to help with everything we can – block anti-Ukrainian Russian bots and chats, we help financially e.t.c.”

Barricades have been constructed and trenches dug EMIN SANSAR - ANADOLU AGENCY - GETTY IMAGES
Barricades have been constructed and trenches dug EMIN SANSAR – ANADOLU AGENCY – GETTY IMAGES

What’s your take on this tough subject and how would you assess the current difficult political and situation between Russia and Ukraine? What’s your general stance on this subject?

Obrij (Обрій): Well, basically the Russian government doesn’t consider Ukraine as an independent state. Moreover, they do not consider Ukrainians as a separate nation. They use the “brother nations” rhethoric just to mask their imperialistic and chauvinistic intentions.

𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑦 𝑤𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑟𝑎𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑏𝑜𝑚𝑏 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑐𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑠, 𝑘𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑝𝑒𝑜𝑝𝑙𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑎𝑑𝑚𝑖𝑡 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑟𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑡𝑜 𝑑𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑜𝑤𝑛 𝑓𝑎𝑡𝑒.

They stole the Crimean peninsula, instigated the Donbas conflict, used lies and propaganda to brainwash their own people into believing that their actions are justified. There can not be two different views on this conflict:

𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎 𝑖𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑎𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑜𝑟. 𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑦 ℎ𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑝𝑝𝑒𝑑.

Shiva The Destructor: The situation is really tough. The Russian attack was unprovoked, unreasonable, senseless. Though, I probably will take my words back. The very existence of Ukraine is very irritable to Putin, especially in the form of a free, independent, and democratic Ukraine, where people are not afraid of their political leaders and can criticize them openly. Such Ukraine threatens the dictatorship in Russia, Russian citizens may start asking questions – why can’t we do like Ukrainians? Why are we not allowed to protest openly? Why are people thrown into prisons for their political views? After all, why people are getting killed for their political views which are different from the mainstream? – and that would shake the throne the dictator.

Of course, Putin is afraid of that. But for Ukrainians it’s just who we are. We don’t threaten Russians. Generally, Ukrainians are rather docile people, unless something really unfair happens to the vulnerable, as it happened before Euromaidan to teenagers and students beaten badly by police. I remember there was a term “a clash of civilizations”, I think it describes the situation between Russia and Ukraine.

𝑈𝑘𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑦 𝑏𝑒 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑎𝑠 𝑟𝑖𝑐ℎ, 𝑜𝑟 𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒, 𝑜𝑟 𝑝𝑜𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑓𝑢𝑙 𝑎𝑠 𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎 𝑖𝑠, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝑑𝑖𝑓𝑓𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑠𝑒𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑝𝑒𝑜𝑝𝑙𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑠.

Someone recently said: Russia’s society and their dictator have a mindset from 19th century – they think taking territories would make them great, and Ukraine even with all its inner problems is in 21 century. It’s impossible for the country with the 19th century mindset win over the country with the 21st century mindset even if the first one has lots of 20th century weapons.

So, the situation, what is going on in Ukraine now, is the clash of civilizations, and…

𝑈𝑘𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑓𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑜𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑖𝑡𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑒𝑒 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑙𝑑.

Ukrainian servicemen help a woman carrying a small dog across the Irpin River on an improvised path while assisting people fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo - Vadim Ghir
Ukrainian servicemen help a woman carrying a small dog across the Irpin River on an improvised path while assisting people fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo – Vadim Ghir)

The complex relationship between your countries is something widely misunderstood, especially in the Western countries. Is there a way to explain the background of this conflict to someone not educated in this matter?

Obrij (Обрій): Imagine this: your country lost a war with a Western rival, lost considerable amount of its territories as a result, and dove into a deep crisis. After a while, a new powerful leader emerges, rebuilds the economy, army, and the prestige of the country. Everybody admires him, and even Time magazine features him on its cover. The theme of revenge is brought up more and more frequently in the propaganda, eventualy leading to a huge war…

I am talking not about the post WWI Germany, but about the post Cold War Russia. When people compare Putin to Hitler, they don’t even realize how true this comparison is. Putin tries to build USSR 2.0, but the result will be pretty much the same, as in the Hitler’s case.

𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑒, 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑃𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑛’𝑠 𝑐𝑟𝑜𝑛𝑖𝑒𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 𝑡𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑣𝑖𝑐𝑡𝑒𝑑, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑖𝑚𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 𝑝𝑢𝑛𝑖𝑠ℎ𝑒𝑑 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑜𝑓 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑠.

That’s for sure.

Shiva The Destructor: How much time do you have? I could start with the 6th century or 9th to show how Ukraine was created: Ukraine is a very old country, though it had a different name at the time. However, Russia did not exist then. And when it came to existence, its name also wasn’t Russia but Moskovia.

However, if you want a shorter and more recent version, then we should consider Putin’s fixation on the imaginary greatness of Russia and the Soviet Union in the past, and he understood this greatness though the bigger size of his county. His reference to the fall of the Soviet Union as the biggest disaster of the 20th century is alike Hitler’s sick fixation on the Treaty of Versailles.

𝑇ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑓𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑗𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑈𝑘𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑝𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑠 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑢𝑠𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 𝑎 𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑅𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑎𝑛 𝑒𝑚𝑝𝑖𝑟𝑒, 𝑖𝑛𝑐𝑙𝑢𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑃𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝐹𝑖𝑛𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑.

So, the background of Ukrainian conflict also includes the attack on Georgia in 2008 (by the way, also during Olympic games – and when George W. Bush tried to protest, Putin smiled and said, come on, we are not going to break our wonderful friendship over this insignificant county). The West didn’t like what was done to Georgians, but they were afraid to wake up a big bad bear, so reluctantly they swallowed it, and neglected their own principles. They thought maybe the hungry bear would be satisfied with this.

Then, also during the Olympic Games but in 2014 Putin invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea peninsula and eastern territories of Ukraine. Europe got uncomfortable with that, and some sanctions were issued, but not strong enough to stop Putin, because they still wanted cheap gas, and Russian money.

And now he wants to destroy Ukraine completely. The countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia know exactly what this means – they are next on Putin’s list. Then Poland and Finland. And after that – the rest of Europe unless Putin is stopped. He might not even wait till the next Olympic Games.

Bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol. The heavy shelling by Russian forces is preventing people from burying their dead EVGENIY MALOLETKA - AP
Bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol. The heavy shelling by Russian forces is preventing people from burying their dead EVGENIY MALOLETKA – AP

On the other hand, a considerable part of Ukrainian residents are pro-Russian. How do you estimate this ratio of the division between your people? Also, regarding your closest neighborhood, have you felt any palpable appreciation and support towards Russian politics and their agenda?

Obrij (Обрій): For a considerable part of our history, Ukrainians were divided between two empires: Russian and Austro-Hungarian. Eastern Ukraine had been a part of Russian Empire/USSR for many years, so it is not surprising that they used to be “pro-Russian”. Yes, there are some differences between Western and Eastern Ukrainians, however they are largely exagerrated by Russian propaganda.

𝑀𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑛𝑜 𝑚𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒 – 𝑈𝑘𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑖𝑎𝑛𝑠 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑡𝑜𝑔𝑒𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑎𝑠 𝑜𝑛𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜 𝑠𝑢𝑐ℎ 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎𝑠 “𝑊𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑠” 𝑎𝑛𝑑 “𝐸𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑠” 𝑎𝑛𝑦𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑒.

After the hostile actions of the Russian Federation, the percentage of “pro-Russian” Ukrainians is pretty close to zero. And if even after the annexion of Crimea there were some polititians that supported Russia (it’s hard for me to explain why, to be honest), but now even they had shut their mouths. Even the leader of pro-Russian part of Ukrainian Orthodox Church Onufrij condemned Russia’s actions as “the sin of Cain, who killed his brother Abel”.

Shiva The Destructor: I think there is a misconception in this regard even in Russia itself where they think that people speaking Russian are necessarily pro-Russian. It is not the case, and I will try to explain this nuance.

There are ethnic Russians, as well as ethnic Romanians, Hungarians, Jews, Roma, Greeks and so on in Ukraine. Ethnic Russians often speak (or rather spoke) Russian. This does not mean that they are pro-Russian, actually most if not all Ukrainian Russians I know are pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western. Are there pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens? Yes, but they are not necessarily ethnic Russians, they could be of any ethnicity, and the main reason why they are is because of Russian cultural expansion and propaganda.

Of course, in recent 20 years Russia spent lots of money on aggressive propaganda, on buying corrupt politicians, and creating a discord in various societies. Including Ukraine. That’s what Russia is good at. They target either older population feeding them lies how wonderful it was in the days of their youth in the Soviet Union, or the young who have no idea how actually it was then; to return to those imaginary golden years one can only by becoming a part of Russia. It is hard to say how many people in Ukraine can still believe this BS.

But, on the other hand, I must admit the genius of Putin how he can unite people against himself and against Russia. Whatever divisions we had, now, in the face of the chthonic horror of war, when the very existence of our country is threatened, people are united as they had never been. Many of those who were pro-Russian before are not pro-Russian anymore and they unite with the rest of Ukrainian society in denouncing Russia and rejecting their dictatorship, fighting for free Ukraine against Russia as the aggressor.

How do you think where it’s heading? What future do you see for your country?

Obrij (Обрій): It will lead to Russia’s loss. There is no other possible scenario. As for Ukraine, it will become a part of the Western world pretty soon.

Look, you as Westerners may have your opinion on EU. For sure it has some flaws, and we understand that. But even taking this into account, it is still better for us to be a part of the European Union, than to join the Gulag. We do not idealize the West, but this is where we want (and deserve) to be.

Ukraine Volunteers fighting against Russian incursion..-mi
Ukraine Volunteers fighting against Russian incursion.

Lastly, how can we help?

Obrij (Обрій):  Please spread the word about the Russia’s aggression, help our refugees, pressure your polititians to help Ukraine. We will win.

𝐺𝑙𝑜𝑟𝑦 𝑡𝑜 𝑈𝑘𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑒! 𝐺𝑙𝑜𝑟𝑦 𝑡𝑜 ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑜𝑒𝑠!


Previous Story

Harmonica infused folk rocker John Tomasevich discuss debut album “Devolution”

Next Story

When Words Are Not Enough – an interview with LA straight edge band BERTHOLD CITY