As the war in the Ukraine keeps going on with no immediate end in sight, we are looking at the developments through the eyes of another local act. Tember Blanche is a folk duo made up of singer and songwriter Alexandra Ganapolska (Sasha) and guitarist and producer Vladislav Lagoda (Vlad) who met on the streets of Kyiv. After a six-yer-long period of busking across the capital, Vlad was joined by Sasha and the two started recording music in their home studio. Their story is tied to the city that was at the focus of the invasion for the past weeks. Like many others, the band had to flee their hometown and the place of their origin. Now, they are residing in the western part of Ukraine at the home of Vlad’s parents. That is where they are, when I call them last week.

Vlad and Sasha are sitting outside in a green garden. The cloud cover casts soft light over their faces. What looks peaceful, what looks like a relaxed countryside get away, is actually a trip through hell, driven away from life as they knew it by the Russian aggressor. “There are no bombs there but we have a lot of air raids,” they say fazed by the war. Luckily, both are able to work remotely, Sasha as a copy writer and Vlad as a motion designer.

“This is not a conflict. This is war and Russia is the aggressor.”  

Living in Wartime

Sasha tells me that she was not able to listen to any music at all for the first two weeks of the full-scale Russian invasion. “For two weeks or even more, we did not listen to music. Then we slowly found back to it and now we check out everything”. As the war has become a new reality, the band found a way to allow themselves to enjoy the things that they love through listening to music. “It is almost impossible, but we need to try to think of something else too. It is way to distract.”

“We have to live our lives in this war. And living the war also means trying to fight for the things that you love.”

Since the invasion, the duo also released two songs of their own. The first, Ти живий (meaning “you’re alive”) is an uplifting ballad for hope, celebrating the strength and vigor of the defenders of the country. The second one was written following the destruction of a children’s hospital in Mariupol and carries grief, anger, and disbelieve at its core. Ненародженим, the title translates to “Unborn” and it is dedicated to the children that will never walk this earth.

Songs About War

The band went on recording from their new base in the countryside. As a band that always recorded from home, they are flexible. But the process is incredibly challenging, they tell me. The songs may write themselves, but they are hard to record. In the recording process they have to take breaks every once in a while, they tell me, because the topic is so devastating.

“Music is our way to express feelings and writing songs right now is like therapy. The songs about war write themselves. It is not like there is the war and then there is normal life. The war is life now.”

Vlad says, there are two kinds of songs about war – the celebrating of the defenders and the mourning of the lost – it is the latter that transports the current mood in the Ukraine better. On Tember Blanche’s two tracks about, and since, the war they notice that the relevance has shifted. “There is much more suffering than hope right now. We all hope for the best but in general it is all very bad and the sad songs resonate that more than the encouraging ones. It feels more relevant.

Fighting At Many Fronts

These two songs are the first songs that are about the political situation on the country that Tember Blanche are releasing, Sasha explains. Before that, she were mostly writing about other things drawing inspiration from nature, love, and social problems. Right now, they are safe where they are staying but the war is still everything that is talked about. “It is impossible to distance yourself from it.” And as artists, Tember Blanche also see their responsibility to keep the Ukrainian spirit alive. They highlight how important it is to not only fight the fight against the Russian invasion at the military front but also at the political and cultural front.

“We have many fronts in this war. The military, the informational, the cultural front.”

Vlad tells me about the period of Russian occupation that the Ukraine has undergone in the past 300 years. “Culturally, there has been a lot of stuff from Russia. The culture, the music, the movies, the art. We were always told that it is better than the Ukrainian. That is why, we want to fight back and celebrate that Ukrainian art and music is not the inferior culture as Russia sees it but that it is beautiful and appreciated nationally and internationally.”

Celebrating Ukrainian Music

Vlad, who has been busking in the streets of Kyiv for the past six years also notices the change in the way the industry was influenced by the Russian cultural occupation. “In the Ukraine only a few artists can live off making music and touring. Before 2014, there was more money in the industry – money and artists from Russia. And a lot of the Ukrainian music scene was directly marketed towards Russia because money came from there. Now there is a big push to move way form the cultural ties to Russia. This war is not only Putin’s war but it is the war of all of Russian culture trying to erase us. We do not want to make music for Russian listeners anymore.”

Even though the band does not make explicit use of the traditional elements in the rich Ukrainian music culture, they are influenced by the soil they have grown up on. “It comes from the inside. We are connected to the Ukrainian tradition and we live in the Ukraine. Of course that shapes our music as well.”

A Political Tool

Before the full scale invasion the folk duo was working on their second record. Now, they tell me they will release it only after victory. “We cannot concentrate on songs that are not about war”.  Music is always political, life does not move outside of the political context, this war painfully reminded everyone of that fact. Tember Blanche say that they hope that in the future “No one will say that music is not political. It is an important issue. We need to move away from the influence of Russia in Ukraine – culturally and musically as well.”   

We have updated our Listen to Ukraine Playlist with songs by the Duo and recommendations from the local scene they gave us. Keep listening to Ukraine and donate to Ukrainian charities like Come Back Alive.