In 1990, Sasha changed schools. He thought the old one was stupid and he heard from the new one that there were specialist classes there and that after graduation you could go to university without any further exams.
We got to know each other in the school yard, which should actually be called the lyceum yard, because our school turned into a lyceum over the summer (I have no idea what that meant in Ukraine in the 1990s, there were no other lyceums in Kharkiv, but it certainly sounded stable).
At the time there was no more important question for me than who liked what music. Sasha celebrated the same bands as me, so chances were high that we’d become friends. Unfortunately he didn’t play an instrument, otherwise I would have invited him to join my band. I was obsessed with the idea of starting a band – I started writing punk songs in the summer.
Punk was like Lyceum, I liked the word but didn’t really know what it meant but I read an inspirational newspaper article about English punks and decided to become a punk too.
Writing songs shouldn’t be that difficult, I thought – the four chords I knew on the guitar would do just fine. As for the lyrics, I already had some experience because I wrote poetry for years and attended the literature studio at the Young Pioneer Palace. Every Sunday we discussed poetry there.
Today I wonder why we weren’t told anything about Ukrainian poets back then, but often and at length about Russian poets. At 14, I thought Sergei Yesenin was cool, the early Soviet-era Live Fast Die Young lyricist, a village boy who rose to become one of the country’s best-known authors and committed suicide at 30.
A few days ago I was woken up by an audio message from Sasha, who has lived in New York for decades. He said his old school in Kharkiv was completely destroyed by Russian missiles, along with the Sergei Yesenin Museum. What?! Either I misheard or Sasha was drunk, it was late evening in New York, it could have been…
I googled “Kharkiv, School No. 17” and saw the horrific images of a completely ruined school building. And yes, indeed, in the school there was a Yesenin Museum, the only one in all Ukraine! The search brought me to the website esenin.ru. “Not only is Kharkiv a Russian city by its mentality, it is also a city that Yesenin personally visited in 1922, where he drank, danced and wrote his wonderful poems.”
Today I have to think of school number 17 when a moderator from a large German radio station calls me. In the Ukraine they want to ban Russian music and literature, he claims in a friendly voice – and would like to hear my comment on that.
I hesitate for a moment, I don’t know where to start. I ask why a German radio station is interested in this news of all things? And how often in the last four months have there been reports of destroyed educational institutions in Ukraine?
I recently read that there are 200 schools in the Donbass alone. Schools, universities, libraries and museums are being denazified by the Russian army, “denazification” being a synonym for “total annihilation”. I ask if the station has already told its listeners about the big boards with Pushkin quotes that were recently set up in the occupied city of Kherson.
I’m getting angrier and I know it doesn’t come across well, you can certainly tell that I’m nervous. At this moment, the presenter wants to change the uncomfortable subject and asks me about the latest examples of cooperation between Ukrainian and Russian musicians.
When I want to say that I have the feeling that the Russian and Ukrainian musicians I know have forgotten their common language, the moderator says our time is up and thanks him for the exciting conversation.
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