Ukrainian Field Notes II

Mariya Oksentiyivna Prymachenko
Lovely Spring, What Did You Bring?

According to figures from the UNHCR, almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population – more than 10 million people – have been forced from their homes.

Some 3.7 million refugees have been forced to flee the country, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War.

An additional 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine’s borders, and at least 13 million are estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave due to heightened security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.


Vvanya Samokrutkin система | system

система | system, as a platform, grew out of our events activity. To begin with, it consisted of techno events in abandoned factories with Ukrainian musicians from Odessa like Bryozone and Hateyouall. After that, we started to make art events and decided to separate the production of techno parties from art events and created система. We then focussed our attention on the live casts series, an archive of live performances giving space to young musicians as a way to express themselves. In terms of the label, we don’t have geographical concerns to release only Ukrainian artists, but release people from the world over. In fact, I see it more as a publishing house operating in the sphere of electronic music. We release a lot of different styles and genres. Sometimes we also distribute and sell different merch like comics, books, tapes, and art around music.

When you say “we”, how many people are behind система?

There have been different permutations over the years, but now it’s mostly myself with the help of the musician Knappy Kaisernappy. When we are putting on events, we get help from other musicians who are part of the label. We also run a parallel organisation called Coppélia Press.

Are you also an artist?

I took part in a number of exhibitions, but at the moment I am not concentrating on this. As a musician, though, I am still playing as systemnapotvora.

What is the experimental scene like in Odessa?

In Odessa we have a really developed noise and harsh scene. Musicians from Kyiv perform here and vice versa. The experimental scene is much more developed than eight or seven years ago. There are more people who include performing art elements in their live sets. Since 2014, Ukrainian artists have been living in a moment of self-identification. Everybody was trying to be united, and the Ukrainian community was very Ukrainian oriented.

At present, many artists are paralysed, people don’t listen to music anymore, they can’t make music.

What are the demographics of the audience for experimental music in Ukraine?

It’s young, trendy looking people out of money, who come from art universities, art colleges and revolve around art and fashion and all without money! Youngsters.

How many people would attend an event?

For my latest events it was around 300 people.

Is it financially viable?

Not really, not after paying the artists and paying fees for sound equipment and venues. The income for the organisers is about a couple of hundred dollars. But we are talking about the experimental scene yeah? In the dance and clubbing scene, it is easier of course, easier to get a bigger audience and more income. As I said, the experimental audience doesn’t really have money to pay for expensive tickets. When it comes to the dance / club scene, the situation is different, tickets are expensive, around 15 euros, which for my target audience would be impossible. I never charge more than five euros maximum.

Just to put things in perspective, what is the average income in Ukraine or Odessa?

I think it’s about $500 – $450, something like that.

What about figures for your label?

It depends on the music, whether it is more or less difficult to listen to. But on average, if we are doing physical releases, and we only do tapes, not vinyl, we have tape runs of around 30/50 copies. In terms of downloads it is always around 2-3,000. I’ve now started to put the albums out on a name your price basis, because I don’t want to make money from the label, for me it’s more to promote the artists.

What are the logistics for releasing tapes?

It’s not difficult at all. We can prepare a tape, complete with the artwork, in Kyiv for 1 euro, which we could then sell for 4 euro, for example. Or at least that was the case before the war.

I take it that at the moment that is no longer possible?

I don’t know, but most artists are moving to Western Ukraine.

What has the response been from the international community?

I see wide support. Many have asked me if I need financial help, but for the moment it’s ok. I have also had offers from Russian artists, because I was booking many of them before the war. Many of them have been writing to me proposing financial help and collaborations, but I turned down all offers for the time being. Maybe later we will do things like split releases, things like that, but at the moment it is not possible to collaborate with Russian artists, even if they support Ukraine.

What is the current situation like in Odessa?

artwork from Xinhao Piju vol. 1 by systemnapotvora +1

It is difficult, because within our region they have already attacked a number of villages. We are all waiting for the Russian rocket attacks. There are fewer and fewer products in shops, prices are going up, and medicines are scarce. The situation is becoming more dangerous but at present there are no reports of rockets hitting the city.

As for myself, I work as a volunteer. At first I was acting as a translator, and also, like everybody else, I helped in the construction of barricades. There are barricades everywhere in the city, it’s crazy. The atmosphere is paranoid and very anxious. I also do volunteering with internally displaced refugees from Kharkiv, working with women and children. We distribute medication, food, clothes and we are helping them with accommodation. So it’s not like in Kyiv or Kharkiv, we are not attacked yet, but there’s a very anxious atmosphere. I have never worked so much.

Entrance of catacombs on Kartamyshevskaya Street, photo by Мокрицький Павло – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Have many within your circle of friends and family already left?

Yes, the roads are empty whereas normally there are traffic jams all the time. I live in a high rise building and there are only four families left out of 35 apartments. Most of the people who have money and a car have left. I sleep away from any window, in a corner of my flat which is well protected by walls, but for the past few days I have been spending maybe five hours in the shelters every night. We all have an app for air raid sirens. When they spot rockets in the sky everyone must go to the blockhouses. And when I say the blockhouses I mean the catacombs. In Odessa there’s a wide system of catacombs dating from the second world war. But they’re old and not very secure.

My own paranoia is that I live near a base of the National Guard of Ukraine and I fear that it is going to be one of the first targets from any incoming attack. That is why I have started going to the shelters because for the first couple of weeks I wasn’t really going there. Now I have started to take it really seriously.

How would you say the war has impacted you so far?

I have an aunt who spent eight days in Bucha, the blockaded suburb of Kyiv. They had no running water, and no food. The minute the Ukrainian army established a green corridor, she fled and she told me she saw many dead bodies by the roadside.

I have a cousin on the frontline who has already been injured. I have a friend in Kharkiv who died with his three year old kid and his wife. I also knew the journalist Sasha [Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova] who died alongside the Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.

I know people who spent a week and a half in shelters in Bucha and Irpin. I know many people from Kyiv who are now in Western Ukraine and are now training with the army.

The war has already had a huge impact on me.

The Swedish firm I was working for is no longer operating and I lost my job, like many others.

There’s a post-apocalyptic feel in the streets, it’s very strange. Although here in Odessa we haven’t experienced the full horrors of the war with rocket attacks. But the anxiety comes from waiting for the moment of destruction.

I have also been going to Mykolayiv to help out and there they are under constant attack but thank God we still have a road connection with the city. It’s not like Mariupol which is blocked off.

How do you see the future?

I don’t know. For the first few weeks I had a big euphoria, because the nation was united, it was a beautiful moment, with everyone working for a common goal.

But now I am very depressed. Because of martial law, men between the age of 18 and 60 cannot leave the country. My wife is in France and I am here. She went to France one week before the start of the war to visit her parents. She was meant to be back by the March the 5th, but that has been impossible. I have no desire to leave the country and intend to stay here until all this is over, but being separated is really depressing.

My feelings are split two ways. On an emotional level, I feel we will win soon, and that we will destroy the Russian troops and army in a few weeks, maybe a month. However, intelligence reports from the US and the UK say that the war will go on for a long time, which I believe will be the case.

My fear is that the infrastructure will be destroyed, because I am sure that the Russian goal is to destroy the potential of Ukraine so that we cannot redevelop quickly after the war. There won’t be a possibility to restore what has been destroyed. Because I don’t believe the West will send financial aid, since Europeans will be already paying the price of the war in terms of gas supplies. And even if we got money from the West to rebuild the infrastructure, due to corruption in Ukraine, the money will be embezzled. I fear that Ukraine will be destroyed for decades and that the reconstruction will go on for decades, this is my fear.

Also, I wanted to say, nowadays it is very difficult to get alcohol in Ukraine, there is no alcohol in all Ukraine because of the martial law. We can still get oysters, but we cannot get wine. Today in Odessa it is more difficult to get alcohol than drugs.

What can be done?

I don’t have an answer. As far as the international community is concerned, mediatization is important. This can take any form, a post, a release, anything like this.


Myroslav Protsan The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is an experimental dark folk / neoclassical band from Dnipro founded in 2016 and inspired by instrumental European neofolk music. Among our musical influences we should list projects like Váli, Of the Wand and the Moon, Neun Welten, Empyrium, Forseti and Message To Bears. At the beginning of our art career we composed a lot of neoclassical compositions made just with two acoustic guitars and a cajon.

After a while, new talented members joined us (currently we are six in the band) and brought their own musical experience to our project, which, in turn, expanded our genre boundaries from traditional dark folk to ambient, post rock and even math rock music. So, it’s probably safe to say that our music was also influenced by GY!BE, A Silver Mt. Zion, GoGo Penguin, Animals as Leaders and Slint.

How would you describe the experimental dark folk and post rock music scene in Dnipro and in Ukraine in general?

Not sure about post rock, but as for dark folk music, this genre has acquired a very special and unique form in Ukraine. Starting from the ’90s it was always a part of the deep underground movements. On the one hand, this made Ukrainian dark folk music a very specific and “niche style” (it’s safe to say the average Ukrainian doesn’t even realize about its existence), but on the other hand this allowed it to evolve without any artistic boundaries and to become so fascinating.

Here are a few of my favorite outstanding dark folk / experimental ukrainian bands from the ’90s: YARN – Etudes [1992-93]; Svitlana Nianio, Oleksandr Yurchenko – Знаєш як? Розкажи [1995]; Svitlana Nianio – Kytytsi [1998] and Цукор Біла Смерть. As for modern dark folk projects, I’d also like to list Casa Ukrania, our friends and colleagues from Odessa.

How has the live scene been impacted by the pandemic in the past couple of years and has lockdown curtailed your creative life?

The pandemic had a major impact on the whole Ukrainian scene. Unfortunately, a lot of concerts have been canceled or postponed as well as in other countries. A lot of artists obviously lost their revenue. However, most musicians managed to adapt to these new conditions and focused on their online activities.

As for The Wicker Man, in our case we used the quarantine time to finish the recording of our new album Cynefin which contains almost all songs of our concert set list.

Can music provide refuge in these dark times?

It’s hard to say. I guess it depends on the specific person. Today the whole Ukrainian people are listening to the song of alarm sirens and hears the explosions caused by Russian bombs and missiles. Because Russian terrorists didn’t achieve any success on the ground and now the only thing they can do is to drop bombs on the civilians from the sky. The shameful act which makes them real fascists and maniacs. So, it’s not easy to listen to music in times of genocide. But I’m certain listening to music is not a bad idea. This is a really good way to avoid the madness. So, if it can provide refuge for someone, it’s really great. One shouldn’t feel guilty if it helps.

Touchie Touchie at the Construction Festival of Dnipro photo by Yunona Prud

What is the situation like in Dnipro at present?

The current situation seems to be stable in Dnipro. The enemy didn’t dare to get into our region and we hope will never be able to do that. There is enough food and medicine in the stores and most civilians do their best to help the Army.

Dnipro continues to accept refugees from war regions and provide them with shelters and supplies. Thus, our region is a sort of “a safe island” in this ocean of mayhem and I hope it always will be so.

It’s obvious that the war changed each of us. A few weeks ago we were planning to meet up with friends, go to the bar on the weekend or just spend some time with our family. Today we’re spending our time in bomb shelters and basements, learning by heart the recipe of a Molotov cocktail (we call it “Bandera smoothie” in Ukraine) and sending money to our brave soldiers.

What can one do to help the artistic community in Ukraine?

Today’s artistic community of Ukraine becomes volunteers and soldiers. I think the best way to help them is to donate to the official Ukrainian volunteer foundations like SaveLife which helps our Army and our refugees.

Besides that, you would significantly help our musician community, if you donate directly to the Ukrainian artists via Bandcamp. I am sure most of our bands will send all their Bandcamp funds to our Army.

Finally could you recommend a book / film / artwork about Dnipro / and or your country?

Not sure about books or art, but I can recommend a few films and websites. Here is a piece in the Guardian highlighting Ukrainian documentary films helping to understand what’s happening in our country in the past thirty years. I highly recommend watching movies about the Maidan Revolution (or Revolution of Dignity) of 2014 and films about the ensuing Russo-Ukrainian war. I’d also like to recommend the website Ukraїner if you want to discover some great places of our country or know more about our people and society.


Nata Teva

I am a Ukrainian music producer. I love nature and music. The initial idea of my work is to transfer my feeling of nature through electronic music. In my music, I try to use only field recordings. I perform live. Also, I love experimenting with sounds. Nature, voice… I am inspired by all living things that produce sound.

I graduated from the electronic music production school in Kyiv. Module exchange. After that, I began to perform.

What is your studio set up?

I write music using headphones. I don’t have a studio. Or rather, I almost had one before the war. I was just planning to create the studio and buy professional monitors. But, now I only have AirPods with me, since I left all the equipment behind except for my laptop. Also, I had a zoom, which I left and I think that I will now record everything on the phone.

Almost all of my music is filled with field recording. In my first live I was using only recorded sounds. Unfortunately, due to the stress I experienced during the war, I stopped listening to music at all. I just listen to live sounds. Birds, wind, water.

How would you describe the experimental / electronic music scene in Kyiv and in Ukraine?

I know a lot of cool Ukrainian producers. Ukrainians are about experimentation. Guys are very passionate about their projects. There are even organizations for female producers who write music.

What has your experience of lockdown been during the pandemic?

I started making music during quarantine and it can be said that quarantine has had a beneficial effect on my work.

How did the war affect you on a day to day basis?

The war had a great impact on my situation. I left Ukraine a couple of days before the start of the war, and wasn’t able to return home because of it. Now, I am in the Netherlands and I trying to exhale. Also, I am actively helping the guys in Ukraine remotely, and volunteering locally. I am cut off from my family and want to go home. I had to leave my dog in Ukraine, he was like a best friend to me. But, I’m glad that I’m not here on my own, but with my boyfriend, Iraklii, who also writes music under the moniker paat and is part of the band Icarus Misha. We support each other.

What can one do to help?

My friend, music producer Nina Eba, prepared a podcast for the Hong Kong Radio station “HKCR” in which she collected music and stories from Ukrainian producers. We want to spread this information. [Nina Eba’s podcast Air Raid Siren is now also part of the система | system radio show embedded at the end of the article].

Also, my boyfriend and I also have an idea to make a live set and also collect money to help the Ukrainian army and people who lost their homes during the war.

Finally, could you recommend a book / film / artwork about Ukraine?

Bogdan Logvynenko’s book Ukraïner. I would also recommend reading Ukrainian poems, and reading about Ukrainian national instruments. And in general, when the war is over, visit Ukraine. We have the most beautiful mountains, the warmest sea and coolest people.


Hanna Svirska

I was born and brought up in Kyiv. I am 28 years old. Aside from being a musician, I am also a graphic and animation designer. I had several personal exhibitions of my own paintings and participated in artists competitions.

I started my solo project in 2020, inspired by such musicians as Emika, Eartheater and Holly Herndon.

I was inspired by beautiful melodies from my childhood. I bought an acoustic guitar at the age of 13 with my first serious savings, but I didn’t have enough money for a piano. I wrote my first song at the same time. I was working on assembling a home studio for several years. I wanted to create the most comfortable working conditions for myself. But a month ago I had to leave Kyiv, a place that is so dear to my heart.

How does your solo work differ from that of Tunelilisu, the electronic music duo you formed together with Andriy Kunin?

My solo project is more intimate and not for a large number of listeners. These are my emotions wrapped in an ambient vibe. It’s just me. Well, me and a lot of vocal loops. 😉

Tunelilisu is more about creating dance tracks. Constant rhythmic experiments and painstaking work on each sound. We try to exist within the genres of electronica, downtempo and generally to make music from music lovers to music lovers. I love this project, we have invested a lot of energy in it, I hope to continue it after the war.

How do you view live performances?

I’m a true fan of concerts. I believe that musicians exist to give concerts and make the show. This is their moment of openness, absolute shamanism.

What has your experience of the pandemic been?

I had a surge of creative life during the pandemic. But there is a big difference between quarantine and war. During quarantine you knew that you would survive by staying at home and not having contact with other people. War gives you no guarantees.

Are you still able to think about / listen to / and produce music?

Yes, of course. I have only a laptop after relocation, but I continue to make music. There is no way to record live musical instruments to create a melody or to record even something normally. All I have is Ableton and my smartphone. Fortunately, there are many mobile applications for creating music sketches. Sometimes the result is even more interesting than in the studio. But in this situation, I don’t have unrealistic fantasies about professional mixing and mastering. I don’t know when it will be possible to release something, but music calms me down and distracts from this terrible reality.

Are you still in Ukraine?

I’m still in Ukraine, in a relatively safe part of it. I have left Kyiv, but I have so much hope that russia’s [sic] brutal aggression will not force me to leave Ukraine. My partner is in another city, we haven’t seen each other since the first day of the war. I miss her so much, this is the longest time we have been apart. And lately I’ve been tormented by phantom siren sounds. I run and open the windows to hear if it’s really an air alarm, or my hallucinations, whether it’s sonic anxiety or just my own anxiety.

What can one do to help the artistic community in Ukraine?

I know that a lot has been done. Ukrainian people are grateful for that. Other countries need to continue to open art residencies to Ukrainians. People can help with materials and tools for those who have left their homes. In fact, many artists had to choose only one main thing to take, because other things simply did not fit in the backpack. I was very impressed by a photo from Kyiv, where a guy was evacuated from a burning house with a blackened guitar in his hand.

You can also donate to Ukrainian music and Ukrainian labels at Bandcamp. Provide creators and their families with safe places to live, and art spaces with the necessary creative software.

I see that many artists are forced to work at  the most unexpected locations and now they are already building a new foundation of Ukraine. russia [sic] will never break us with the massive, barbaric destruction of cultural heritage, because our culture is within us.

Finally, could you recommend a book / film / artwork about your town / and or your country?

Book Книга Ukraїner. Країна зсередини.

Our cinematography has grown a lot in recent years. The last Ukrainian film that I watched before the war Носоріг by Oleg Sentsov. Also, from last year, Сторонній by the Ukrainian director Dmytro Tomashpolsky. I was pleasantly impressed by its aesthetics.


Undo Despot

I’m from Odessa. I have been developing my sound art practice for the past four years. I started writing music at the age of 14 on an iPhone 5, in a garage band in the style of trance and techno. Over time, I switched to ambient. I was very influenced by Soviet records and alternative music, which I listened to extensively.

As soon as I got a mac, I understood very easily how Logic works and learned how to make live sets just with the touchpad. I composed a huge number of tracks live and often went to the countryside to benefit from the aesthetic atmosphere. At present, I’m using an Akai MPC500 and an audio recorder to create my own samples.

How would you describe the scene in Odessa?

The experimental scene in Odessa appeared about 8 years ago, from what I can tell. They were often acts from outside who took part in themed events. I did my first live at the Muzeon Experimental Centre in 2020. By the beginning of 2022, I was already playing in cities like Kharkiv and Kiev.

What’s your experience of the pandemic?

The pandemic in Ukraine did not have a particular impact on the music scene, although there were no live gigs. Everyone followed lockdown rules, and concerts resumed towards the summer of 2021. It didn’t affect me that much, and I used that time to prepare work on different projects and releases.

You released your album A64D on March the 4th with proceeds going to help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Could you talk about the genesis of this album and what does it feel like to release an album whilst your country has been invaded?

The A64D album is not about the war and isn’t related to what is happening now. It was released as a self-release in 2021, after which I sent it to the guys from QN who decided to put it out. Just before the release itself, Russia declared war killing our people and destroying the infrastructure under the pretence that we were Nazis, and that the invasion was a military operation to free “us”.

A large number of my friends are now actively trying to protect my homeland and I am trying to help out with humanitarian aid to the army.

As soon as the war began, I could not listen to music for two weeks until my mental health was restored. Now this is my salvation, especially if I also draw and work on my visual art.

Are you still in your hometown?

I left Odessa a week after the start of the war. I went to Romania, but now I have returned to Ukraine. At present I am in the “safest” part of the country, where there are basic necessities. I am calmer here, because I am at home.

My Russian friends are also trying to help out.

Art now in Ukraine has a military character and feeling to it, but after victory, I trust we will see a huge resurgence in culture and cohesion in all areas.

What can be done to help?

People can help by donating to museums and supporting Ukrainian artists with their releases and projects.

Any books / films / art from Ukraine you’d like to recommend?

In terms of Ukrainian literature, I would recommend the works of Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and in particular Intermezzo.


Elsa Quintin Knappy Kaisernappy PI DOOM

I was born and raised in Brittany, France. I studied art/humanities and graduated from University Rennes 2. My work focuses on the drawing practices in the spectrum of performance. I have been deejaying and producing music for 12 years. I do not disconnect these practices because I consider myself a performer, sometimes an artist, and sometimes a live music actor. 

You perform and release under the monikers Knappy Kaisernappy and PI DOOM. What is your set up and favourite production tool?

Knappy Kaisernappy is my moniker as a deejay. I play bass, break and some bass rap/damaged with some gastric noise and extratone sound. I usually use turntables to dj with a sampler in order to mix some digital content, and make some real time edit/remix. 

But more and more, I play mostly with the sampler because turntables are not always available where I perform: it is totally ok, I like broken and cut transitions.

Pi Doom is kind of a live project, where I only use a sampler and perform some extratone/flashcore. I use samples mostly, some I download and some I create at home with gear. Most of my music is available in free dl and creative commons licence. I am very grateful to the sampling community of freesound and looperman and similar platforms. I try to do the same and drop some material on freesound too. I am clearly nostalgic for the P2P era. It was magical to begin to produce and collect music at that time. 

photo by Julio Ificada

When did you move to Odessa and how do you describe the experimental music scene in Ukraine?

I went to Odessa for the first time in 2016, I was invited to play there by система | system. I had a strong connection with someone there and we started to live between France and Ukraine (because of visa issues). In 2019, I began to live in Odessa more permanently. I had a crush on the city, the southern vibe, and the people there. Odessa is a stunning example of syncretism: you can see the influence of many cultures there. It made it awesome to my eyes and I feel at home there. The city is absolutely stunning: pretty, a bit lazy and funny, with a very ironic mindset. 

Would it be fair to say that female artists seem to be better represented within the electronic and club scene?  

I don’t know. Generally speaking, I think that artists in the electronic music/club field are more commercially minded, and promote themselves better. This is not a judgement. But the way they develop their practice and career is a bit different to what happens in the experimental scene, from what I can see.  

That said, the club scene and the experimental one do converge on some points, and they are both connected to the art scene. Also, everyone knows each other.
Within the experimental scene, there are those who are aware of the importance of representing female and non binary artists. I am thinking of events like Feminoise, for example, and other events run by Erew Saw, a skilled music artist from Odessa. These events are not labelled as feminists, but their line-ups speak for themselves, which is great.

Vvanya Samokroutkin has also been working hard for the past few years to redress the balance in the events he’s been promoting in Odessa. I remember that he’s had to explain the need for this many times. Like everywhere else in the world, there’s still a lot of work to be done in this respect. 

In terms of visual arts, the Muzeon Experimental Center in Odessa, provides a space for emerging artists, and one can clearly notice the efforts made by curators, to give great opportunities to female visual artists. They also sell artists’ works without keeping a percentage. It is rare to see this kind of project in Europe, and in this respect they are forward thinking. 

You also teach art and history of art and have been running Coppélia Press, an independent publishing project working in the fields of visual arts, textuality and sound. Could you talk a bit about that and would you say there is a synergy between the art and the music scene in Odessa or are they separate entities?

Coppélia Press is a publishing project that we developed from 2019 with Vvanya. We published some poetry, literature, audio poems, and some visual art related things: posters, postcards, portfolios, artists’ books. We use some of our artwork in some of our shows and performances (for example, in some performances we dress with our posters, or use them as characters). There’s no need to say this is a labour of love, because we do not earn money from this, as Covid first and now war made sales nearly impossible.

Considering how difficult it already is for any physical merchandise to come out of Ukraine at present, could Coppélia provide an outlet for Ukrainian physical releases?

I don’t know yet how to finance this right now, as we no longer have any income from live events. It is difficult to find funds in order to cover production costs under the circumstances.

I understand that you happened to be back in France at the start of the war and have been unable to return since. What impact has experiencing the unfolding events remotely had on you?

I miss my life. My life was cancelled by Russia.

Vvanya Samokrutkin was describing to me the siege mentality that seems to have taken hold in Odessa, with a heightened sense of anxiety. How would you say your friends in the city have been coping with the current situation?

They live one day at a time. When you ask them how they are today, they answer, “It is calm”; “I am alive”; “I am so tired.” “Normal life” is already a thing of the past. It is a terrible situation to be waiting with shattered nerves for the bombs. People are subject to constant mood swings: anxiety, rage, a determination to fight and defend the city (and the country) from the aggressor, fear, love for each other, courage, collective effort, hope.

What can one do to support the music scene in Ukraine and are there any specific charities operating in Odessa you’d like to highlight?

The best thing is to follow Ukrainian artists and musicians, and read/hear what they have to say. It’s their voices that need to be heard before mine.
Of course, any form of support is important: buying music from Ukrainian artists and labels, inviting them to perform, to record mixes/podcasts: amplifying them. It is very important to support those artists who’ve decided to stay in Ukraine and fight for their country against Russia. 

MARCH 31 2022 KYIV

Olesia Onykiienko NFNR

I’m an electronic musician, and composer for both theatre & film. I am also the curator of the Womens Sound platform and a member of the Institute of Sounds.

I came to electronic music via the school choir, where I sang as a child. It was my strongest passion and it drove me to study as a choir conductor at music college.

I understand your introduction to avant-garde music came mostly from vinyl albums, and that experimental music is not really taught in college in Ukraine. Could you give an overview of the experimental scene in Ukraine?

The scene is very rich and individual even though experimental music is not really taught in Music academies. However, many smaller cultural initiatives have taken on this role. We have amazing modular communities creating their own modular gear, and DIY and noise communities creating different crazy synthesizers, all experimenting with sound. Personally, I find our musicians very inventive and enthusiastic, and I say this as a curator of many sound residencies. I enjoy noticing how foreign colleagues are impressed with our artists.

Has the work of organisations like the Institute of Sound and the Ukrainian Association of Electroacoustic Music helped raise awareness of experimental music in recent years?

I’m sure, yes. Together with the Institute of Sound, not only we hold numerous events, concerts and club-nights, but have also set up several residencies of electronic music, including international ones, such as WOK and v:uncase. Some electronic events are held on the city streets, embodying the idea that “music is not just for professional musicians.” In addition, we organise workshops and public lectures, artist-talks and presentations, both at home and abroad, promoting the Ukrainian music scene. The International residency with our London partners Iklectik was interrupted by war.

You lead the project Womens Sound at the Institute of Sound. Could you talk about its mission and ethos, in terms of developing modern electronic music with a mostly free agenda?

The main idea for us is to support experimentation in sound within different genres of electronic music, and encourage artistic self expression and creative freedom. We aim to provide the technical know-how to those who are new to experimental music, and to nurture their enthusiasm and confidence. All of our activities are free. This is crucial for us.

Furthermore, we consider decentralisation of fundamental importance and involve musicians from non-central regions, arranging many workshops in small towns, with the aim of increasing visibility for those who are less visible.

Could you talk about the connections and ties that Womens Sound has been able to forge with similar institutions and organisations throughout Europe?

We established some ties before the war and now it is so nice to see how these contacts are really helping us. There’s already a strong sense of friendship and community.

Last summer, in Kyiv, we held a WOK residency for female electronic music producers from Ukraine, Poland and Sweden, it was a partnership between Womens Sound (UA), Oramics (PL) & Konstmusiksystrar (SE). People from these communities, as well as other partners of Womens Sound, such as London’s Iklectik, Synth Library from Prague, and our personal artistic contacts are doing a lot for us by sending financial support, arranging fundraising events and helping with logistics.

How has life changed for you since the start of the war and what was your first reaction on February 24th?

The night when full scale war broke out, a missile hit a house near mine. The whole night was a nightmare for me. On the eve, a military doctor friend of mine, told me that ‘it might start’, and actually we were already expecting it to start for more than a month.

As a fool, I thought I was ready, but I was not. The first attack was very scary. I couldn’t sleep as I kept crying, imagining what was going to happen and how this would separate me from my loved ones. At 2am I managed to sleep when my boyfriend calmed me down, but soon after 4am, I jumped out of bed because of a loud explosion, the strong vibrations, the horrible sound and the red sky outside. It was so unbelievable that I thought it was the end.

From that moment on, I couldn’t write any music. I have been volunteering every day arranging supplies from abroad, unloading vans, fundraising, buying drones, and thermovision devices, and ordering medication… It is hard for me to make music when I know that there are things I can do to help save lives by delivering tourniquets & blood controlling medication to soldiers, or that I can fundraise 6 thousand euros over 2 days to buy a drone. This is more precious to me.

As part of your practice you have been recording the sounds of different areas of the Kyiv, Podil, and the Botanical Garden, amongst others. Have you been able to record sounds these past few weeks and record the aural reality on the ground?

It took me a month to be able to listen to any music, even at low volume, as my hearing has been on high alert, trying to capture any sound that can be dangerous for me.

I’m not ready to record this reality right now, because it’s still part of the nightmare, although we are now somehow used to it. Night and day, one can hear the sounds of war from the surroundings of Kyiv, they echo throughout the city.

Did events from the Orange Revolution and Maidan better prepare the artistic community in Kyiv and Ukraine to respond to current events?

I would say the Orange Revolution prepared us a lot for Maidan. During the Orange Revolution I was too young and wasn’t in the artistic community yet, but it gave me a huge experience to be prepared during Maidan. Now I feel the difference. When missiles destroy your home, taking the lives of your loved ones, it’s hard to be active and organised. It’s all about facing fear, pain, panic, despair, trauma, suffering. You can’t be prepared for this. It’s not normal to be prepared for death and the destruction of your life. Having said that, our cultural activism gave us a good background and a wide range of contacts that proved to be helpful.

Considering the number of people who are internally displaced or have fled, how does the artistic community manage to keep connected?

I feel this is the time to reorganise our artistic community and strengthen our powerful international connections in order to work together to save the people of Ukraine. Our musician friends from abroad help us with fundraising, they source medication for civilians, check models of walkie-talkies, drones, and thermovision devices and help out with logistics and delivery to Ukraine. It’s no longer a community based only on partying together, but one of people who really help each other.

What can be done to support musicians in Ukraine in present times, and specifically female musicians?

The best way to help all of us who are in Ukraine is to support our defenders with finances, ammunition, and medication, because our lives completely depend on them.

I would also recommend several fundraising Ukrainian releases that send all donations in aid of civilians and our army, including Corridor Audio’s compilation V​/​A: We Are Invincible; the compilation of experimental music from Ukraine Liberty from Flaming Pines and my self-released EP Eve.

I would love as well to leave my PayPal account that I use to collect donations to help our defenders

On Thursday night, Vvanya Samokroutkin shared with me the latest система | system Radioshow on Rinse France. Two hours of music and testimonies from Ukraine with Nina Eba (and her Air Raid Siren podcast) and Little Vanya.

@djninaeba about AIR RAID SIREN mix:
“My name is Nina Eba, I’m a Kyiv based dj and musician. I think you know that one month ago Russia started a full-scale war against my country. And right now every Ukrainian is fighting for freedom and humanity on its place, with weapons on the battlefield, with the word in the media, with the code on the Internet, with musical instruments and voices in the art of sound.
I recorded a podcast with music and personal stories of Ukrainian underground sound producers. They are all different but very emotional. Some are suffering from depression now, some are trying to volunteer. A friend of mine, having played the last set a month ago, has now taken up arms and is defending his city. There are those who constantly write music in order to somehow distract themselves from the horrible reality. Each of us now has in our hearts both pain for the nation and faith in this nation, hope for victory. These emotions are embedded in a podcast called AIR RAID SIREN.”

@littlevanya ABOUT HIS MIX:
“This mix briefly describes different sides of my mind. It combines wildness, piloid schizophrenia, naive, childlike faith, and puppet-clown theater smiles when you don’t know how to smile but you have to. Well, and of course, a bit of romance and love….. It seems to me that this is exactly what every Ukrainian feels now. Instead of the story of creating this mix, the story of how I went to the refugee center and was talking to people who had experienced irreversible and terrible loss was told with a smile, though filled with pain and tears. I will never forget the story of the husband with two little girls in his arms, who told the story of the loss of his wife with a smile, if you can call it that, in front of the whole family. She went away from her family to pick up a package during the evacuation, and shrapnel from a rocket hit her right where she was; roughly speaking, she was blown to pieces… But the bravery, I do not know how to call it a feeling; people tell similar stories, surprise and kill me simultaneously. In this war, every Ukrainian will lose and gain something. While listening to this mix, a person would feel it to the fullest.”

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