A few months ago, shortly after Russia began their invasion of Ukraine, I woke up one morning and improvised a guitar piece in an effort to express some of the sorrow and sadness I felt over the events that were unfolding in Ukraine.
When things like this happen, events that are clearly outside of my control, I often feel powerless and to be honest, somewhat apathetic, since there’s really no clear course of action to take, that I’m aware of at least, that I feel would make any difference.
I have a similar reaction to the mass shootings that keep occurring in the U.S., I feel a deep sadness and sense of sorrow when these events happen, but since I don’t really know what to do to change the situation, I tend to sort of compartmentalize the emotions I feel and after a day or two of watching news coverage of the events and sharing in the collective sadness that everyone is feeling, I simply carry on living my life the best way I know how.
But, this particular morning I woke up and I decided to at least try and channel some of what I was feeling into music, and so on a whim I improvised a three minute and 25 second instrumental guitar piece. I recorded the piece in one take, with no edits. I decided to call it “Song For Ukraine” and over the next few days I proceeded to share the piece on Facebook and I posted it in a handful of Facebook Groups I belong to around the world in places like Mexico, The Dominican Republic, Chicago, Panama, Costa Rica and a few others. Places I have travelled to and lived over the years.
You can check that out here:
I received a lot of comments and feedback about the track, perhaps more than any other song I’ve ever posted on social media. I received hundreds of comments, most were positive, a few were cynical and wondered why I would care about this particular war as opposed to previous wars the the U.S. have been involved in, as if people that don’t know me online somehow know where I stand on other wars. But one comment in particular really stood out to me, it was from a musician who was and is living in Ukraine, a musician by the name of Evgeniy Lenov.
He informed me that he was living in Kharkov, right in the middle of an active war zone and was in the process of making an album called “Symphony of War In Ukraine”. I was so intrigued by his story of making music under what I can only imagine to be one of the most intense, surreal and incredibly stressful circumstances possible, that I asked if there was any way I could help to share his story and his music and invited Evgeniy to do an interview so I could share his story on my blog and Youtube Channel.
Through corresponding with Evgeniy, I learned that although he can read and write in English, with the help of Google Translate, he doesn’t speak English as his native languages are both Russian and Ukranian, but he offered to type out his responses in English so that I could share his story on my blog. So, I messaged him back and said this would be perfect and asked him when we could proceed. Then, a few weeks went by and I never heard back from him.
I didn’t want to be pressure him to do the interview since obviously his circumstances were not the most ideal, to say the least, and I knew that things could take a turn for the worse at any moment. A couple months went by and I started to fear the worst until one day I started to see him post on social media again with updates about his music. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I still had yet to hear back about doing our interview.
Then, a few days ago Evgeniy commented on one of my posts on Facebook. We got into a back and forth exchange and I asked Evgeniy how his album was coming along. He said he had finished it and sent me the link to the full album, which you can check out here.
I asked him if he still wanted to do the interview and he said now would be a better time and that he had recently moved to the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, and that although there are still air raid sirens and occasionally incoming rockets, that in his words, “day to day life had become more or less peaceful”. I was relieved to hear that and so I sent him a list of questions about his experience of making an album in the middle of a war zone in Ukraine.
At the end of the interview, I’m going to link to a track from the album called “Part 12: Final” which in Evgeniy’s words "symbolizes the end of the war". I will also link to the full album, so be sure to check that out and support Evgeniy.
Making music under even the best of circumstances can be daunting in this day and age, but making music in the circumstances that Evgeniy made his album in are hard for me to even fathom really and my interaction with Evgeniy has been a great reminder to be grateful for the circumstances I find myself in, as well as a reminder that unfortunately, many other people that share our planet, as we speak our experiencing situations that to many of us would be unfathomable.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Evgeniy. I’ll be working on creating both an audio and video version of this story for my podcast and Youtube channel, respectively.
Here's my interview with Evgeniy Lenov.
Aaron: Hi Evgeniy, Thanks so much for agreeing to do the interview. Can you start by telling us where you’re from and how long you’ve been making music?
Hello. Thanks for inviting me to do the interview.
I was born in the city of Kharkov. At that time it was the third largest and most important city in the Soviet Union after Moscow and Leningrad. At the age of six, I went to the first grade of a general education school and at the same time I was enrolled in a music school, and studied accordion. Then, at the age of 14, I discovered the guitar and taught myself to play it. At the age of 15, my friends and I formed our first band and recorded our first album. In 1991, my thrash-death band was at the top of the local charts, ahead of even pop groups there, and we played concerts to full houses. That's how it started.
Over the years I have left music. But in 2017, I decided to return again. Because in life you have to do what you love. After all, life is too short to spend it on other people's goals and affairs.
Aaron: Where in Ukraine were you when the war broke out and where are you currently?
At the beginning of the war I was in Kharkov. Early in the morning, it was still dark, we were awakened by a powerful artillery barrage. Glass and walls - shuddered from powerful explosions. And we realized that life suddenly had completely changed. The past life we knew was no more.
Now I am in Kyiv. Thanks to a friend who gave me a place to live. But I spent the first three months of the war in close proximity to the front lines of the war. Cannonade was heard constantly.
Aaron: What has your day to day life been like since the War started? I know that you are in a more peaceful part of Ukraine now, but what were the initial weeks and months like? Can you please describe your experience?
I won't go into great detail as it will take a lot of time. Only the main points - the most significant part of what I saw and experienced.
On the first day of the war, I saw the explosions of shells with my own eyes – I was very close to the front lines. I saw A black column of smoke that was very quickly blown away by the wind. And the sound of an explosion.
On the morning of the second day, near the house where we were, a rocket hit the yard. We heard a powerful explosion, that caused a ringing in our ears. the house shook. The rocket hit the neighboring yard - 50 meters from the house where I was. If the rocket had hit 50 meters to the side, we would not be talking now.
Then for a whole week, mostly at night, we listened to how artillery and MLRS were firing at us, from the city center, we listened to the explosions of missiles, the roar of flying aircraft. A curfew was introduced in the city, and we knew cases of people being shot for violating the curfew. In the early days of the war, our house in the center was shot with machine guns - neighbors sent photos of bullet holes in windows and walls and photos of bullets they dug out of their walls.
Then, after a week of sitting in a bomb shelter, we decided that it was time to leave at least for the suburbs, and we packed our things at home, a plane flew very low overhead and fired a rocket that exploded not far from our house. We threw ourselves on the floor. It was an unforgettable experience.
Living in the suburbs, we listened to the cannonade from several directions all day long. But it was a little further from the front lines, so the shells did not reach is.
For a week we went to a friend in - and the next day rockets also flew there - three powerful explosions early in the morning. And they began to turn on sirens every morning from 5 to 9 in the morning.
Before moving to Kyiv, I returned to live at home in Kharkov in the city center for a week. And every day the cannonade became louder and more intense. In the evenings in the dark from 22 to 24 hours, from the center of Kharkov, I observed flashes and glows on the horizon - it was no further than 8-10 km from me, from the city center.
During the curfew, blackout must be observed - it is forbidden to turn on the lights at home. Therefore, the city at night looks like you are in a distant village - bright stars, the city does not illuminate the sky at all.
And the last thing that left an unforgettable impression - four cruise missiles, which already in Kyiv flew right over the house in which I live on one of the upper floors. This is a 25-story building. And all four rockets flew right over my head, no further than 30-50 meters from the balcony on which I was standing. I examined their wings. And I saw where they all exploded - just 2 kilometers away from me.
This is what war looks like.
Aaron: I listened to your new album, Symphony Of War In Ukraine, which I really liked by the way. What was the process of writing and recording this album? I can only begin to imagine how surreal this experience must have been for you. Can you describe your emotions and what you were experiencing while you were making this album?
In the first days of the war, sitting in the basement of a bomb shelter, I realized that you can’t just sit in depression and kill time by reading the news, but you need to convey your emotions and feelings in music. And the name of the album was born by itself - Symphony of War in Ukraine. I had a Laptop, headphones, Cubase Pro and a small midi keyboard - what else do you need?
I just wanted to convey the sensations of what is happening around, the experiences of people, the events taking place in cities, the emotions. And now the listeners tell me that by naming the tracks after the names of the cities, I accurately captured and conveyed the spirit of what was happening and is happening in these cities.
When, in the first days and weeks of the war, my musician friends called me and said that they were depressed and could not do anything, I tried by my example to ignite them, stir them up, make them start making music again. I told them: "War is a time in which music has its own important mission, music is very important in this period of history." And gradually everyone came to life, they also began to record songs and even perform at charity concerts.
It was during the war the value and significance of music increases many times over. Don't forget that. We each have our own function and our own mission. Including musicians.
Aaron: We are now several months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Do you have any sense of how long this invasion will drag on?
The fact is that we are now forbidden to say "what is". We can only say publicly what propaganda tells us. If you tell any other version- you can be arrested or even shot. Therefore, I cannot tell you my assumptions about the further course of the war.
I can only say my assumptions about when the war will end. Perhaps it will end before the onset of winter.
By the way, from the first day of the war we were forbidden to leave the country. This is the kind of freedom we have. Only women, children and the elderly over 60 can travel. But women will soon be banned from leaving too, as they began to put all of them on military records. It seems that the population of our country is perceived as cannon fodder. But let's not talk about sad things...
Aaron: You said during our correspondence, that you recently relocated to the capital of Ukraine and that although there are still air raid sirens throughout the day and that sometimes rockets fly into the city, that things are much calmer and more peaceful and in your own words, “the city lives an ordinary, peaceful life, as if there is no war”. That’s amazing to hear, can you describe what your life is like now, living in Kyiv?
Yes, Kyiv lives an ordinary life. There is also a curfew here, but it is short (from 23:00 to 5:00). There is no need to turn off the lights at night - the whole city glows brightly with street lighting all night. Sirens are sometimes turned on here, but nothing arrives and no one pays attention to the sirens. The city lives a normal peaceful life.
But, as I said earlier, a few days ago, four cruise missiles flew here. People sometimes forget that the country is at war. But the war does not let you forget for long.
Aaron: How has this experience changed your perception of being a musician and making music? It can be hard to find the inspiration and motivation to make music at times, even under the best of circumstances, I can’t even begin to fathom the emotions you must have been experiencing making this album. Has this experience in any way given you more motivation to get your music out there and have it be heard?
I have a Soviet upbringing. And we were taught from childhood that, in the most difficult times, we should not give up, but on the contrary, we should give our all and make our contribution. We had good teachers. Thanks to them, parents and grandparents, who taught us all this and, prepared us for any turns that life would take. They wanted us to live in peace. But they prepared us for everything.
Music is an art that can inspire, give strength for life and struggle and fill people with optimism, etc. Therefore, the significance of music in such periods of history is greatly increased. Everyone should understand this and not forget.
Aaron: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I’ve been wanting to share your story since we first connected several months ago. Are there any closing words or thoughts you want to leave us with? And thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my questions and my thoughts and prayers remain with you.
Thanks for the invitation. It’s good that we didn’t do the interview two months ago and that we waited – more events have happened during this time, new impressions and emotions have appeared, more information and life experience have appeared.
I wish your blog and your podcast and you personally success and prosperity. And I hope war never comes to your land and your country. It is better to read books and watch movies about the war. And it is better to live in peace.
So, that concludes my interview with Evgeniy. One musician’s first hand account of what it was like living through the ongoing war in Ukraine while simultaneously making music. I’m not going to lie I was moved to tears at several points during the process of reading and editing Eugene’s responses. Regardless of what you feel about the politics of the war in Ukraine, or what you feel about Russia or Putin or Zelensky or Biden or any of the international figures involved in this conflict, at the end of the day, war is simply horrific, brutal and incredibly sad.
Here's Evgeniy’s track from his album, "Part 12 (Final)":
Listen to the full Album, Symphony Of War In Ukraine, here.