From a music club sheltered underground in the Ukrainian capital, Mariana Navrotskaya does not hear the air raid warnings echoing above her. It is his bandmate Anastasiia Khomenko who informs him after checking online that a national warning is in effect at the time of their Zoom call.
“It’s very good that you are in a shelter,” she told her friend, worried but more shocked by what is happening in her home country. “It’s my daily life,” replies Mariana.
It’s 2 p.m. in Kyiv, 1 p.m. for Anastasiia, now based in Barcelona, and 10:30 p.m. for the third member of their trio, Nataliia Seryakova, currently in Adelaide, South Australia.
Across time zones, thousands of miles apart, the three members of feminist punk trio Death Pill reunited for their first UK interview – which happens to be, it turns out. , also the first time the three of them have seen each other, albeit onscreen, as they broke up shortly after the start of Russiais at war Ukraine 10 months ago.
While Nataliia, 25, was able to temporarily move to Australia for work, Mariana, 26, opted to stay in Kyiv. Anastasiia, 29, made the difficult decision to take her son Orest, who turned eight in November, to safety in Spain; leaving behind her husband Evgenij.
“When the war started, I didn’t want to leave Kyiv,” she told Sky News. “But I know I have to because I have a child and I want him to be safe and have a better life.
“Every time I think of the children in Ukraine it is very painful for me. They have air raids, they are [having to go] in the shelters…it was a very difficult decision. I did not want to emigrate. I really don’t like my country.”
A hardcore punk trio, Death Pill in its current lineup started in 2021, when bassist Nataliia joined. Emerging from Ukraine’s diverse underground music scene, they recorded their self-titled debut album and were ready to take the world by storm.
“After all, rock’n’roll isn’t just about brutal men with long curly hair, is it?” says Mariana in their promo.
But then the war broke out. For the first month, Anastasiia and her family slept in their bathroom, the safest place. Now she is separated from her husband and parents – her father is fighting for Ukraine – and she and her bandmates are scattered across the world.
Despite the distance, they’ve managed to polish their online album since splitting.
So far, their releases have started to create buzz and they have been named one of Metal Hammer’s 10 Exciting New Bands To Watch In 2023. Signed to London label New Heavy Sounds, it is due for release on February 24, 2023 – marking the one year anniversary of the start of the war – and they all hope that one day, hopefully soon, they will be able to tour together.
Although it was never intended to be so, the goal now is to use their platform to continue raising awareness about what is happening in Ukraine.
“Right now we have a dream team, our golden trio,” says Anastasiia. “We’ve played in many Ukrainian cities… now we have a lot of attention from Europe, from America. And we appreciate that because we can spread the word about the war.
“We can share all of this information with the people who are actually living and going through this…we were waking up on February 24 after missile strikes. This is not propaganda, this is real life.”
“A year ago we had everything”
These last months, Russia launched attacks on power supplies, causing power outages across Ukraine. This is why Mariana placed herself in the music club, which has a generator, for this interview; she cannot communicate from home.
Nevertheless, she is resilient. “It makes me stronger and more powerful,” she says. “You can’t imagine this situation at all. At all.
“It’s a lot of hard work to live now in Ukraine – in Kyiv, in any other city – because you have to find electricity, internet, water.
“A year ago you had everything and you don’t think about it anymore. And now… when you read the history of the Second World War you think it’s very bad, but now it’s a another time, it will never happen again…. I can’t find the words to explain.
“But now it’s very interesting to live here because you understand the importance of everything you [thought] has been…”
“Basic,” Anastasiia answers for her. They now appreciate the everyday things they used to take for granted.
Nataliia and Anastasiia tell their bandmate that they think she is more positive now than before the war.
“I’m going through big changes, and that’s cool,” she replies. “Do you see how strong the Ukrainians are? Anastasiia says about her friend.
But they miss each other. Brought together by a common desire to make music with something to say, to stand out from the crowd, they despair of seeing each other again in person.
I ask them how they feel about not being able to play together at the moment. “Do you want to see our tears? Marianne responds. “That’s a very sad question.”
“That’s crap,” Nataliia says. “You can’t plan. So I just know, like, six months in advance what I can do. But after that, I don’t know. It’s slow, but it’s as good as we can do. It is what it is.”
“We are breaking the patriarchy, now we are breaking Russia”
A positive element that emerges from the war is the underground music community that comes together to support their country.
“Because we have a lot of people who are artists, musicians, great people in our nation [who] are now armed to protect their country, to protect all of Europe,” says Anastasiia.
Nataliia says Russian artists with any kind of platform, those who are somewhere else in the world and able to see what is really going on – rather than “propaganda” – should also stand up for Ukraine.
“Even a lot of famous artists from Russia don’t say anything about it, and that’s crap,” she says. “[People say] they have just been born in Russia, but they have a mouth to speak.”
She says she has lost contact with some of her own family members in Russia because they don’t believe the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.
“When the war started… there were a lot of explosions not far from me,” she said. “I saw explosions at the window, it was five kilometers from my house.”
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Russia has “taken everything from us”, says Anastasiia. “I miss carelessness because I don’t have it anymore. When I see [in Spain] a lot of people, they’re so happy, carefree. I am very happy for each of them, and for you that you never, ever have what we have in our life.
“But in another way, I feel very angry because we’ve had that in our lives too. We were also carefree and doing stupid things and we were just hanging out together and [making] music in Ukraine. And now Ukrainians just need to survive…
“For everyone who supports Russian terrorists, I want them to see how it is. I want them to open their eyes, in a horrible way. It’s true and it’s our life. We don’t. don’t want and we don’t want merit.”
After traveling to Ukraine this summer to see her husband, Anastasiia plans to do so again next year. “I’m going to see Mariana,” she said. “We’ll play together, maybe do some songs.”
“We broke the patriarchy together and now we are breaking Russia together,” says Mariana.
“Right now for us is our life,” says Anastasiia. “For me, it’s like living in a movie. But I don’t choose to live in a horror movie. I want a movie where we’re rock stars.”
Death Pill release their self-titled debut album via London label New Heavy Sounds on February 24, 2023