‘I don’t choose to live in a horror film’: The punk trio separated by Russia’s war

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From a music club sheltered underground in Ukraine’s capital, Mariana Navrotskaya cannot hear the air raid warnings sounding above her. It is her bandmate Anastasiia Khomenko who informs her after checking online that there is a nationwide warning in effect at the time of their Zoom call.

“It is very good you are in a shelter,” she tells her friend, concerned but not shocked by what is happening in her home country anymore. “It is my every day,” Mariana replies.

It’s 2pm in Kiev, 1pm for Anastasiia, now living in Barcelona, and 10.30pm for the third member of their trio, Nataliia Seryakova, who is currently in Adelaide, south Australia.

Across the time zones, thousands of miles apart, the three members of feminist punk trio Death Pill have reunited for their first UK news interview – which just happens to be, it turns out, also the first time all three have seen each other together, albeit on screen, since they were separated shortly after the start of Russia‘s war on Ukraine 10 months ago.

Ukrainian band Death Pill

While Nataliia, 25, was able to move temporarily to Australia for work, Mariana, 26, chose 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 her husband Evgenij behind.

“When the war began, I didn’t want to leave Kyiv,” she tells Sky News. “But I know that I must because I have a child and I want him to be safe and have a better life.

“Every time when I think about children in the Ukraine, it’s very painful for me. They have air alerts, they’re [having to go] down in the shelters… it was a very difficult decision. I didn’t want to emigrate. I love my country very badly.”

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A hardcore punk trio, Death Pill in its current line-up began in 2021, when bass player Nataliia joined. Emerging from Ukraine’s diverse underground music scene, they recorded their self-titled debut album and were ready to take on the world.

“After all, rock is not only about brutal men with curly long hair, right?” states 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 spread across the world.

Despite the distance, they have managed to put the finishing touches to their album online since they have been apart.

Their releases so far have started creating buzz and they have been named among the 10 exciting new bands to watch out for in 2023 by Metal Hammer. Signed to London label New Heavy Sounds, the plan is to release it on 24 February 2023 – marking the first anniversary of the start of the war – and they are all hopeful that one day, hopefully soon, they will get to tour together.

While it was never meant to be this way, the aim now is to use their platform to keep raising awareness about what is happening in Ukraine.

“Right now we have a dream team, our golden trio,” says Anastasiia. “We’ve played in a lot of Ukrainian cities… now we have a lot of attention from Europe, America. And we appreciate that because we can spread the word about the war.

“We can share all this information from the people who are actually living this and going through it… we were waking up on 24 February from missile strikes. It’s not propaganda, it’s real life.”

‘A year ago, we had it all’

Ukrainian band Death Pill

In recent months, Russia launched attacks on power supplies, causing blackouts across Ukraine. It is the reason Mariana has placed herself in the music club, which has a generator, for this interview; she is not able to communicate from her home.

Despite everything, she is resilient. “It’s making me stronger and more powerful,” she says. “You can’t imagine this situation at all. At all.

“It’s a lot of hard work living now in Ukraine – in Kyiv, in any other city – because you need to find electricity, internet, water.

“One year ago, you have it all and you don’t think about it. And now… when you read the history of World War II, you think that’s very bad, but now is another time, it will never happen again… I can’t find the words to explain. It’s f***** up.

“But now, it’s very interesting to live here because you understand the importance of everything that you [thought] was…”

“Basic,” Anastasiia answers for her. They now appreciate the everyday things they took for granted.

Nataliia and Anastasiia tell their bandmate they think she is more positive now than before the war.

“I’m going through big changes, and that’s cool,” she replies. “You see how strong Ukrainians are?” Anastasiia says about her friend.

But they miss each other. Brought together by a mutual desire to make music with something to say, to stand out from the crowd, they are desperate to see each other in person once again.

I ask how they are feeling about not being able to play together at the moment. “You want to see our tears?” Mariana responds. “It’s a very sad question.”

“It’s s***,” says Nataliia. “You can’t plan. So I just know, like, half a year forward 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 smash the patriarchy, now we smash Russia’

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Zelenskyy’s Christmas message

One positive to emerge from the war is the underground music community coming together to support their country.

“Because we have a lot of people who are artists, musicians, great people of our nation [who] are now with weapons protecting their country, to protect all Europe,” says Anastasiia.

Nataliia says Russian artists with any sort of platform, those who are elsewhere in the world and able to see what is really happening – rather than the “propaganda” – should also be standing up for Ukraine.

“Even a lot of famous artists from Russia say nothing about it, and this is s***,” she says. “[People say] they were just born in Russia, but they have mouths to speak.”

She says she has lost contact with some of her own family members in Russia as they do not believe the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.

“When the war started… there were a lot of explosions not far from me,” she says. “I saw explosions in the window, it was like five kilometres from my house.”

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Russia has “taken everything” from us, says Anastasiia. “I miss being carefree because I don’t have it anymore. When I see [in Spain] a lot of people, they are so happy, carefree. I’m very glad for every one 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 also had this in our life. We also were carefree and did silly things and were just hanging out together and [making] music in Ukraine. And now people in Ukraine need just to survive…

“For all people who are supporting 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 want it and we don’t deserve it.”

Having travelled back to Ukraine in the summer to see her husband, Anastasiia has plans to do so again next year. “I will see Mariana,” she says. “We will play together, maybe do some songs.”

“We smashed the patriarchy together and now we smash Russia together,” says Mariana.

“Right now for us, it’s our life,” says Anastasiia. “For me, it’s like I’m living in a movie. But I don’t choose to live in a horror film. I want a movie where we are rock stars.”

Death Pill release their self-titled debut album through London label New Heavy Sounds on 24 February 2023

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