‘Dance like there is no tomorrow’: Ukraine’s wartime music scene
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Lviv and Kyiv, Ukraine – Boghdan Sulanov, the fast-talking vocalist of a heavy metal rock band called YAD, traverses a crammed backstage area. He edges past a guitarist who has just finished a high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled set, leaving him drenched in sweat, and reaches a small table piled with audio equipment, tea and biscuits. From underneath the table, he fishes out a rucksack with the clothes he will soon wear onstage.
The concert hall, an intimate venue in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, is covered in music posters and on a night in early February, it is packed with several hundred rock enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the next performance. The atmosphere is electric, and Sulanov is excited.
“Young people didn’t appreciate music in the same way before the war,” says the 33-year-old, referring to Russia’s full-scale invasion of his native Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
“Our band always sing about our problems, and right now, it is that we want to survive,” says Sulanov, as he takes in the frenetic backstage atmosphere.
During the weekdays, Sulanov works as a software developer, but in his free time, he’s a rock star. “We all need to work, but we also need energy, and this can come from music!” he says, before politely excusing himself to prepare for his set.
On stage, Bohdana Nykyforchyn, a 35-year-old singer with shoulder-length dyed red hair, screams into a microphone while her bandmate pounds away on a drum set.
Nykyforchyn transports the room through a range of emotions, alternating between soft melodic tones and more aggressive, fast-paced vocals. At one point, her voice cracks, and she looks like she might cry. After her set, she explains why. “I am eight months pregnant, and my dream was to climb this stage,” she says. “When the second song came on, I felt all my emotions bubble up. My hormones are everywhere!”
Backstage, Sulanov has transitioned into his on-stage persona, dressed all in white. His eyes peer through a balaclava with the words “not nice” emblazoned on it.
The members of YAD run out onto the stage, and the audience, ranging from fresh-faced teenagers to grey-haired middle-aged rockers, erupts in excitement. The people standing in the front row scream out the words to their songs, including a young boy who looks to be about 10 years old. The guitarist briefly stops strutting around the stage when he spots the boy and gives him a heartfelt thumbs-up.
Marichka Chichkova, the event organiser who is helping out at the bar, admits that although heavy metal is not her preferred music genre, she is happy to see all the people enjoying themselves. She looks up at the stage and remarks, “It’s also a release for musicians; this is very important, too”.