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Lviv and Kyiv, Ukraine – Boghdan Sulanov, the fast vocalist of a heavy metal rock band called YAD, walks through a crowded backstage area. He walks past a guitarist who has just finished a high-octane, adrenaline-filled set, leaving him drenched in sweat, and reaches a small table filled with audio equipment, tea, and cookies. Under the table, he pulls out a backpack with the clothes he will soon be wearing on stage.
The concert hall, an intimate venue in the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, is covered with musical posters and, one night in early February, it is filled with several hundred rock enthusiasts waiting with looking forward to 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 large-scale invasion of his native Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
“Our band is always singing about our problems, and right now it’s just that we want to survive,” Sulanov says, soaking up the frenetic atmosphere backstage.
On weekdays Sulanov works as a software developer, but in his spare time he is a rock star. “We all need work, but we also need energy, and that can come from music!” he said, before politely excusing himself to get his set ready.
On stage, Bohdana Nykyforchyn, a 35-year-old singer with shoulder-length dyed red hair, screams into a microphone as her bandmate pound on a drum set.
Nykyforchyn carries the piece through a range of emotions, alternating between soft melodic tones and more aggressive and fast vocals. At one point, her voice breaks and it sounds like she might cry. After her set, she explains why. “I am eight months pregnant and my dream was to take this step,” she says. “When the second song came, I felt all my emotions boiling over. My hormones are everywhere!
Behind the scenes, Sulanov became his character on stage, dressed all in white. His eyes peer through a balaclava that has the words “not nice” written on it.
YAD members rush to the stage and the audience, ranging from fresh-faced teenagers to gray-haired middle-aged rockers, erupt with excitement. People standing in the front row shout the lyrics to their songs, including a young boy who appears to be around 10 years old. The guitarist briefly stops strutting onstage when he spots the boy and gives him a heartfelt thumbs up.
Marichka Chichkova, the event organizer who helps out at the bar, admits that while heavy metal isn’t her favorite musical genre, she’s happy to see everyone enjoying themselves. She looks up at the stage and remarks: “It’s also a release for the musicians; it is also very important”.