Much like everyone on Earth, Ukraine has been on our minds as of late. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the vicious cycle of doom scrolling through the latest casualties—where statistics like “at least 23,000 dead, and 10 million displaced,” according to Reuters—bombard the news and the names Volodymyr Zelensky and unfortunately, Vladimir Putin, are commonplace in the brain lexicon.
But one entity that we have become much more aware of in the last month is the music scene in Ukraine—specifically their past and current punk music scene. A band like Gogol Bordello probably comes to mind when you think of Ukrainian punk music, but the gypsy punk group is actually based in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. We wanted to find recent and past punk music actually birthed in Ukraine.
We also have Bandcamp and Spotify to an extent to thank for this, as we discovered various playlists through their platforms, but also the North American and European musicians who have taken it upon themselves to share a bit of their knowledge of the Ukrainian underground punk scene.
So why punk specifically? Since its inception, punk rock has been a means for liberation, both musically and politically depending on the band. It’s been the very essence of calling out unjust governments, racism, sexism, a general disregard for human rights, and of course, war.
There’s also a website called Neformat, run by journalist Yaryna Denysyuk, that covers the underground music scene of Uzhhorod, Ukraine which we used to learn about the history and context of punk music in Ukraine. A quote from her Denysyuk is below.
“The post-Soviet era was one of total poverty whilst the national economy was restructured: there was no internet to share and record the music made, no creative economy to support young talent, and no music industry to speak of. It was only in the 2000s that a wider underground scene started to appear [in Ukraine].”
During our online sojourn into the Ukrainian punk scene, we found something interesting. Punk has always been a political requiem, but much of Ukrainian punk music tends to look inward at aspects like depression, anxiety, and trauma. There are heavy songs about the damnation of war, and you can be sure that new bands will form, creating songs about the Russian invasion, but up until now, much of the punk in Ukraine has been a form of cathartic release for its musicians without any links to politics. It could be called Apolitical punk.
Also, the word “punk” may have a different meaning in different parts of the world. In Ukraine for example, because the scene is quite small and DIY, many bands are looped into the punk genre. Aspects of speed metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, doom, black metal, psychobilly, alt-rock … they all fall under punk.
This list is in no way shape or forms complete, and it just scratches the surface but should give you a small idea of some old and new punk music from Ukraine.
Vopli Vidopliassova – Experimental ‘80s punk rock
It’s difficult for us in North America and even Western Europe to imagine the chokehold the Soviet Union had over Ukrainian cultures, including music. “The Soviets saw hippies and punks as manifestations of “harmful bourgeois culture,” but there was a great burst of creativity in the late 1980s and sometime after the country got its freedom,” Denysyuk says.
Underground metal and punk rock or experimental electronic bands started appearing during the late 80s and early 1990s, but most of the bands from that period are forgotten.
One that was crucial for pushing the punk sound in Ukraine is Vopli Vidopliassova or commonly referred to as VV. VV played rock n’ roll primarily but had a bunch of punk and early post-punk songs that debuted around 1987 at the Kyiv Rock Club. One song, the 1989 “Танцi,” was an immediate hit, showing the obscurity of Ukrainian rock and punk music.
HOMESICK – Hardcore skate punk based in Odessa
HOMESICK has been active since 2010, delivering an intense version of Ukrainian hardcore skate punk. Their music sounds like a concert taking place in an abandoned swimming pool, full of skaters, punks, and society’s other reprobates.
The members go by the names Crank, Left, Hump, and Wise, and their sound fits nicely with a band like Dayglo Abortions or even some later Black Flag. After the invasion of Ukraine by the Russians, Homesick released an acoustic song called “ПОД ЗВУК СИРЕН” or “Under The Sirens,” about the fear, unity, and freedom destined for Ukraine. The song takes its title from the air raid sirens the singer heard at 6 am.
Cios – Gritty street punk from Khmelnytskyi
Cios has the UK Oi! punk sound that reverberates the walls in the local pub. Their sound is gritty, unpolished, the kind of music you’d drink your face off during an underground house show.
It’s dirty working-class punk about the toils of modern life, and while not overtly political, their songs are clearly about the corruption within society. Reminds us of old Minor Threat or some Bad Brains, but throws a few curve balls like a saxophone solo to make the listening experience all the more enjoyable. Their latest release is 2021’s Біль. Гніт. Бруд, in English: “Pain. Abuse. Dirt.”
Dymna Sumish – ‘90s – 2000s punk from Chernihiv
Dymna Sumish was founded in 1998, in Chernihiv, and generated considerable resonance in the musical circles of Ukraine due to a high-quality mixture of punk rock, hardcore, and psych-rock. They played all over Ukraine but didn’t record until the mid-2000s.
Much of their music is only on CD, but a few songs exist on the obscure side of YouTube. The band publicly stated that they were calling it quits “because of inability to cope with the situation in Ukraine—when a culture isn’t valued, but instead, all the power has policy, social experiments and “totalitarianism.” Keep in mind that this was in 2012, before the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Death Pill – Riot Girl Hardcore Metal Punk based in Kyiv
Last but not least is Death Pill. The self-claimed Riot Grrrl band, Death Pill, is terrifying. Their music sounds like a raw open wound being quickly lacerated. An onslaught of vitriol and anger next to a wall of heavy fast paste guitar, bass, and warpath drumming. At times it sounds like pure thrash metal, but the lyricism grounds it in that DIY punk ethos. They come from Kyiv’s underground punk/hardcore scene, a place where the lines of genre are blurred.
The singles “Die for Vietnam” and “Расцарапаю Ебало,” which with a rough translation means “I’ll scratch your fuckin’ face,” in English, are both dedicated to the Ukrainian army and all proceeds for the tracks are going to fund the war effort.
Today we dedicate this release to everyone who defends our country. We are ready to tear the face of every freak who encroaches on our freedom and independence with our manicured nails,” states their Bandcamp. Drummer, Anastasiya Khomenko, recently told Rolling Stone that Death Pill’s music will only get heavier saying they are “filled with anger and hatred.” Adding “we will never be able to forget and forgive them all the evil they have done to us.” Do not mess with these Ukrainian women.