Normalcy - Concert In Kyiv

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Andrii Barmalii

A month may seem like a long time to visit a location, but it passes quickly in a country at war like Ukraine. There are no flights in and out of Ukraine because the airspace is closed. Crossing the border means either train, car, or, in some cases, on foot, which can take hours or even days. On this trip, I flew in and out of Warsaw, Poland, so on each end of the trip to Ukraine, I allocated two days to get from Warsaw to Ukraine and two days back. Ukraine is a large country geographically, though tiny compared to Russia; it is the largest in Europe in terms of landmass.

While my home base for three weeks was technically Kyiv, I was probably only there 1.5-2 weeks of that time, as my trips to Kherson and Kharkiv took up a good ten days or so days.

Pasha is a filmmaker and musician whom I’d only met on social media through Anastasia. Anastasia and her boyfriend, Vlad (a filmmaker), are good friends of Pasha and his wife, Olya, another filmmaker, and photographer. Are you sensing a theme yet? What can I say? Ukraine has a lot of artistic energy, and it’s just one reason I love the place.

I was already going to miss my friend Yulia of JK Tours (Raw Travel 2019 – ) because she was traveling, and I was panicking about missing out on meeting Pasha in person. Pasha had invited me to various events and even some epic-sounding film trips during my time in Ukraine, but because of my commitment to film with Mark and Hymie in the East, I couldn’t take him up on it.

So, with just a couple more evenings left in Ukraine, he suggested I go to a concert with him. It was a concert by a well-known saxophonist and drum duo, Andrii Barmalii & Oleksandr Yavdyk. Though the event was already sold out, Pasha was confident he could get us in. I was to find out that Pasha seemingly knew everyone in the creative community of Kyiv and could talk our way in sans tickets.

It was a rooftop event, and I invited Anastasia and her boyfriend, Vlad, to come along. Alas, Vlad had to work, but Anastasia came, and we all had a fantastic time, as did the primarily creative, avant-garde crowd at the concert.

It was another slice of normalcy, but there were always reminders of war. During one song, I witnessed one young lady coming across the crowd to comfort another crying young lady, joined by another, culminating in a group hug. They were all weeping quietly, and it was clear someone, or perhaps all, had experienced some profound loss that this song had triggered. If this had been New York City, I would have been guessing what could have activated such a public display of grief, but in Ukraine, it was normal, and I already knew. We were in wartime Ukraine, and war takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on everyone. No one is spared. Normalcy is just a band-aid on a massive wound, which is getting deeper by the day.

After the concert, we were all hungry, but because of the curfew, despite full restaurants, kitchens had closed, and no one was serving food any longer. So, we ordered sushi (quite delicious in Ukraine) to be delivered to Pasha’s apartment, and there we finally met up with Vlad for a brief reunion before I took a Bolt (like an Uber) home to get there before curfew. If there hadn’t been a war, I’d have hung out all night, but if there hadn’t been a war, I’d likely not have been there in the first place.

Andrii Barmalii and Oleksandr Yavdyk