These bastards won’t kick me out. Napalm podcast, ep.6. Text version

Yevhen Spirin
These bastards won’t kick me out. Napalm podcast, ep.6. Text version


Napalm is a series of podcasts about photographers, journalists, cooks, pharmacists, servicemen, doctors, saleswomen, and programmers. In short, this is a series of podcasts about Ukrainians experiencing war, about the everyday life of our country, heroically resisting the Russian invasion. We want to hear the voices of our citizens, their stories about everyday and not-so-everyday life, and we want our listeners to hear those voices as well. The frontman of the groups “I Drug Moy Gruzovik”, “NeGruzoviki”, “Vagonovozhatye” Anton Slepakov decided that he would not leave Kyiv the day the war began. Together with his friend, he created the project “Warnyakannya”, in which he recites poems to the music. Anton collects donations for this project and gives them to volunteers. Read about how Kyiv has changed, about people, music, and music during the wartime in a recent issue of Napalm.

Yevhen: Hi, this is Napalm, and today is a holiday issue because Anton Slepakov is our guest. I think all of you know him, so I wonʼt be naming all the bands heʼs been to and all the bands he has formed. Also, today we have another presenter. Itʼs Alla Koshlyak.

Alla: Itʼs a holiday for you.

Yevhen: An amusing situation happened today because I mistakenly explained to Anton that he needed to come at nine, and he came at nine in the morning. And the second funny thing is that I told him, "You know, itʼs so weird to hear your voice not in the songs." And then I read in his interview that he has a filter for people who say they grew up listening to his songs.

Alla: So you have already messed up twice.

Anton: First of all, hello everyone! Secondly, it was a long time ago. Now is an entirely different time. We can set other filters for ourselves, so, on the contrary, itʼs nice.

Yevhen: Okay. My first question: please tell us how you spent February 23, the day before [the war].

Anton: On February 23 we had a wonderful family day. We made a good lunch and gathered as a family. We had only one day off. My wife Iryna is the manager of such incredible bands as "DakhaBrakha" and Dakh Daughters, for those who donʼt know. So, she came [home] for just one day, and the next day she had to go on tour again. And we spent the day with the whole family, went to the cinema to see Licorice Pizza, everything was great. And then, on the morning of February 24, we woke up.

Yevhen: And Iryna did not go on tour.

Anton: Yes, “DakhaBrakha” was supposed to be touring in Khmelnytsky, Lviv, and Vinnytsia. I woke up at around six o’clock and heard an anxious voice from the room. I realized that she was not going anywhere. I came out of the room, and she said, “That’s it, cancel your morning run. It’s started.” They [Russians] attacked. She managed to stop and return the truck with the “DahkaBrakha” instruments that had already left for Khmelnytsky and thus saved the “Dahka Brakha” equipment and the concert instruments that could get stuck in general. Otherwise, it could have been captured.

Yevhen: At that time, [Russian] tanks have already arrived on the Zhytomyr highway. “Dahka Brakha” equipment would have made them very happy.

Alla: No one knew where to go then. And everyone decided to leave Kyiv.

Yevhen: The month before [the war], the authorities said: “Do not try to leave on the first day, because there will be a big traffic jam.” But everyone did. Has Iryna left the country now?

Anton: Yes, they all gradually left. At first, someone moved to the west of the country, someone further. And then “DakhaBrakha” received proposals, as far as I know, from the French institutions to work as the ambassadors of Ukrainian culture, who could reach out to institutions around the world and inform them about the war. As far as I know, they have already created several programs, conventionally called “Ukraine War,” where they tell European viewers and listeners [what is going on], show them the video footage, give interviews, play music, etc.

Alla: What a small world. Just the day before, I spoke with [DahaBrakha member] Mark Galanevich on Radio NV. We talked about concerts in France, how the local public receives the band, and how they explain [what is happening in Ukraine]. In France, they [people] are very fond of Russian culture. They do not understand what it’s like to boycott everything Russian. Marco says: “We explain everything, show photos, videos. We show what is going on here. Do you think I will sit with them at the table and talk about Russian culture? Obviously, I won’t. “

Yevhen: People are writing to us: “Can you do something for Russian journalists?” For Russian journalists ― never, nothing. Listen, Anton, you had a project, “Stisheniya obstoyatelstv” I understand that “Warnyakannya” was born from it?

Anton: It is “Stisheniya obstoyatelstv,” but this is the war times cycle. Everytime, we try to find an interesting pun and weety naming, and [this time] we came up with “Warnyakannya.” Our sound director Andriy Sokolov, my partner in this project, persuaded me. During the first weeks, I didn’t want to do anything of the kind. I even thought that I would forget about such things as music. There was such sorrow, horror, and shock during the first days. But the word is my primary weapon. And the words started to come to me through the channel, that unexpectedly, still words. That gathered in phrases, in poems. Andriy said: “Come here.” He lives on the other side of the city, but he said, “You should figure out how to get here. We will record [your poems] and make something out of them”. Now, when you don’t know how many more days you will be alive, you have no right to be indifferent to such things. You need to record everything. It’s important.

Alla: And it became an anchor you can hold on to for so many people.

Yevhen: People have responded to what you are doing. You have collected a large number of donations.

Anton: Of course, not like our French friends, who are now being helped with the large sums of conventional units by the whole world.

Yevhen: You wrote that you had not collected so much [money] in all these years.

Anton: Yes, we were shocked that we collected so much in two days. I donʼt know if itʼs appropriate to talk about it now, but streaming earnings are pretty conditional. Some people donate, and sometimes this money is enough to record albums. But these are not the amounts of money that will allow you to live on an easy street and provide you with a financial cushion. Therefore, many thanks and respect to everyone. It inspired us to continue working. Next week I will go to Andrij, and we will write something else.

Alla: I couldnʼt listen to music for almost a month, and I couldnʼt read books because I couldnʼt concentrate. As a person who listens to music 24 hours a day, I did not recognize myself. But thatʼs probably like everyone felt. And then I turned on your track, listened to it, and thought, "Yes, this is it."

Yevhen: Anton, you stayed in Kyiv. How did you come to this decision?

Anton: A few weeks, or maybe a month before the war, the news that the war would happen started to appear. I immediately said that we would stay here, we would not panic, and we would not leave. And I canʼt refute my words - who will I be after that? It is, of course, a joke. I have nowhere to go. I helped evacuate my relatives, and Ira left. My parents stayed, and they are people of respectable age, and stand by this decision. But I have a responsibility for them. They are children of war. They were little when [World War II] ended, and they remember that difficult time.

Yevhen: My grandmother is 84. She needs someone to bring her water and so on. She can walk, everything is okay with her, and to my question: “Do you want me to take you somewhere?”, she says a firm no.

Alla: After a week of scandals, I persuaded my family to go to the neighboring oblast. My parents were in Vyshhorod. Now they have finally realized that it’s not the best decision to return to Vyshhorod soon. But my mother always argued: “These bastards won’t kick me out of my land!”

Yevhen: Anton, have you noticed any changes in Kyiv, people [that live here]? Because it seems to us that everyone became very polite.

Anton: Ordinary passers-by, there are not many of them right now, have become very serious. We can joke in our conversation, but generally, people do not smile now. They are worried, depressed, and a little sad. It is understandable. The war continues. Of course, when you take coffee at an establishment, sometimes, there is something that throws you off.

Alla: For me, it usually lasts for about ten minutes. You enter the place, order a coffee, and sit in a coffee shop, but not in front of the window, which is already a reflex. Then you think, “Oh, it’s just like in a normal life.” And every time, within 10 minutes, an air raid siren starts to howl. I have never been able to keep this feeling for a longer time.

Anton: No one usually reacts [to the air raid sirens]anymore. Or do people react?

Alla: It depends on the person.

Yevhen: Here, everyone is used to it. Our colleague, who works the night shift and therefore sleeps until noon, says when the siren starts to sound: “I just lit a cigarette.” Anton, do you have a bomb shelter?

Anton: No, there is no bomb shelter [where I live]. There are basements in nearby houses, but these basements are not bomb shelters, so there is a threat of collapse. I use the rule of three walls. I sleep in the hallway, covering myself as much as possible, and I hope that missile won’t hit this part of the house. There are no equipped bomb shelters nearby.

Alla: I slept in the subway twice. And I do not want to do it anymore.

Anton: We also spent one night in the basement of the opposite house. Settled, arranged our things in the dark. And there was the voice: “Good evening, Anton.” I have never been recognized in the bomb shelter at night. We decided that it would be better to hide at home.

Yevhen: In some basements, there are water and chairs now. In the first days, conditions there were horrendous - a pile of earth, dust, sand.

Anton: And now there is Wi-Fi.

Yevhen: We have two Wi-Fi networks here, but we set them up ourselves. It pains me to look at all these hedgehogs and sticks [in the city]. How do you perceive it? How long have you lived in Kyiv?

Anton: I was born in Kyiv and lived here from childhood to adolescence. And then, for a very long time, I wasn’t living here.

Yevhen: Have you lived in Dnipro?

Anton: Yes, I lived in Dnipro, Kherson, and abroad. I came back here about six years ago.

Yevhen: After 2014?

Anton: Yes. And I am also very sad. I have never seen Kyiv so desolate. Itʼs a little weird. I donʼt think it has ever been so empty.

Alla: [Maybe] during Covid, in the first two months of Covid (pandemics). Life was different.

Anton: No, there were still some people [on the streets]. Grocery stores were working.

Alla: I noticed that there are islands of normalcy. I pull myself out for a coffee to see my friends who stayed here. And for a while, I can imagine that everything is fine. It seems to me that it is very important for all of us to stick to this normalcy because otherwise, we will go crazy. Who will defend Kyiv then?

Yevhen: Anton, how did you learn about [volunteer organization] "Zgraya"?

Anton: I remember them from the days of the Maidan. I was acquainted with them then, but we were constantly in each otherʼs field of vision after that. These are the people who attend all our concerts. When there was relative peace after 2014, they were already involved in many charitable projects, helping orphanages. We always stayed in touch, helping with things, books, and donations whenever we could. I have a lot of friends among volunteers, like everyone else.

Yevhen: It seems to me that now half of the people are fighting, and the other half have become volunteers.

Anton: Yes, and we decided that if this will be a long-term project and we will manage to record an album or a few singles, we will donate. [To transfer the money] to different volunteer groups, so it will meet different needs.

Alla: I’m here as a Zgraya ambassador, I’ve also known them since 2014. What I like about them is that they are versatile. We need military equipment for the Armed Forces - they provide it. We need to feed the elderly - they do it. We need to get people out of Chernihiv - they go there and take them out. And it’s great that there are such initiatives, and you can trust them. Unfortunately, there are already stories of fraudsters.

Yevhen: It seems to me that after a while, everyone chose their foundation, which he could trust. Anton, you wanted to record a cover version of “Gruzoviki” before the war. What exactly was it supposed to be?

Alla: No, it was supposed to be a concert.

Anton: Yes, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the band.

Yevhen: And you wanted to have a reunion?

Anton: We had a concert planned, it is still planned, no one canceled it. [The occupiers] disrupted our preparations for it. On February 25, I was supposed to go to Dnipro. Now preparations are on pause, we are all in different cities. And there is a very huge amount of work that needs to be done. [We have] to remember the repertoire, which we did not play for a long time. We have not performed together for 10 years. Many people thanked us for at least announcing this concert. This is the kind of thing you can strive for after the win.

Yevhen: Whose initiative was that?

Anton: The idea came from a wonderful person who is now a volunteer in the “Zoopatrol” organization Zhenya Kibets, organizer of the Happy Music Group, which organized many concerts. And he is a booker of “Vagonovozhatye”. We have been cooperating with him for 5-6 years. He said he had never been on “Gruzoviki”.

Yevhen: I really want [to attend this concert].

Anton: So, he said, “I really want [to attend this concert], you broke up so fast”. And I said, “Well, it was not fast. We played for around 15 years”. He answered: “Well, I was little back then. Let’s hold this concert”. I discussed it with the guys. They did not mind.

Alla: When I saw this announcement, I was thrilled.

Yevhen: At first, I thought that someone made a fake. Because it’s just unbelievable.

Alla: We already have one thing planned to do after the victory.

Yevhen: And it’s to go to the concert. Anton, I understand that you are not an expert, but do you think Kyiv will be okay?

Anton: I would have stayed even if it was not okay. I more or less understand the risks. Anything can happen. Kyiv can turn into Mariupol, Kharkiv or Chernihiv. It’s not a great perspective, but this is our reality. But someone has to stay here. I don’t know how to explain it.

Yevhen: During the [previous] wars, there was a practice to go to the front and support people with concerts.

Anton: It’s not very ethical. Almost all musicians I know now protect the country with arms. They have machine guns, and you are…

Yevhen: Singing.

Anton: Yes, you come with an accordion, with an agitation brigade. And you are much less popular than they are. It’s a little funny. So I don’t think that’s appropriate right now. During World War II, these agitation brigades appeared sometime later, after 2-3 years of war, when it was already a little sad for the Soviet people to fight. And they came up with the idea of sending actors or singers to the front [to cheer people up].

Yevhen: And there was not any internet.

Anton: Yeah, I think so too.

Yevhen: We joked that the Russian army has old tablet bags. Do you remember the Soviet means of communication?

Anton: Fives?

Yevhen: Yes! And we have Starlink.

Alla: This is the awkward moment when there is no McDonald’s in Russia and Starlink in [Ukrainian] Zhytomyr. It is probably the first war broadcasted live. And it’s very scary. Aren’t you scared of that?

Anton: It’s very scary. And I’m nevertheless shocked by the fact that someone watches this broadcast and someone replaces it with staged news. When someone makes his narrative, he turns everything upside down and says: “Ukrops are bombing themselves.” To watch the fight between these two worlds live is an unimaginable feeling. I’m shocked that many people from Russia and Belarus write to me and ask what is going on here. Because they live in another reality, and they don’t trust their sources of information.

Yevhen: Especially when people from the occupied territories write to you. I don’t know what is scarier - images of war or the things that you can see on their TV. That they captured Kyiv, captured something else, something else…

Alla: Closed 50 biolaboratories.

Anton: I’m scared to watch these videos when someone posts what Russian journalists are saying in the feed. I’m even scared to look at their faces, not to listen. It’s a hell of a mess.

Yevhen: Thank you very much for coming and finding time for us. Today we had a holiday issue with Anton Slepakov and Alla Koshlyak.

Anton: Thank you for the great atmosphere, and thank you for inviting me. We will definitely win. Glory to Ukraine.

Yevhen: And we will go to the concert.

Translated from Ukrainian by Yana Sobetska.