We speak with Ukrainian singer Olena Kryvoviaz of IMMD from inside war-torn Ukraine
We are a family. We dream in music. I have never met you, but we are family.
We live in the same land of light and noise, energy and grace. We hear heartache in a wordless chord; we hear a single note on the guitar, and we see the Milky Way, spiraling into infinity. We are a family, a family who lives to listen, lives to play, and lives to sing.
We are a family, and today, some of us are hiding in basements. Some of us are packed into trains crawling to borders. Some of us cower in terror under falling skies, shielding our children. This horror is not the lyrics of a song. It is not a colorized documentary on television. It is not a symbol scratched on the back of a notebook. This not a game. This is real life. You and I sit here, in our modest comfort, jaws agape in front of our televisions and phones. But imagine if it was happening in our skies, in our streets, outside our windows? We are family, and the bombs are dropping on our family.
I Miss My Death are a remarkable symphonic metal band from Kyiv, Ukraine. Not long ago they released their third album, Mysto. IMMD’s music is a strange and fascinating combination of classical, dark metal, and folk; it is full of drama and terror, space and claustrophobia, hope and warning, grace, and tension.
VIDEO: I Miss My Death “Gospodar”
IMMD is a grinding, winding, chiming, passionate and accomplished crunch and rumble fronted by startling mezzo-soprano Olena Kryvoviaz. She has a majestic, Melissandre from Game of Thrones-like presence, and a voice that could easily slay on Broadway. Imagine if Cradle of Filth and Renaissance had a baby and gave it to Andrew Lloyd Weber to raise, or if Kate Bush collaborated with Impaled Nazarene, and you might have some idea of what to expect here. In normal times, I would love to direct you to their compelling, delicate/elephantine music; but these are not normal times.
That’s because right now, as you are reading this, Olena, her husband and co-band leader Serge, and their young son have fled to the Carpathian Mountains, in the southwest corner of Ukraine. Their band members, their family members, and their friends are scattered throughout the country, living in terror, living in hope.
Artists build frames around feelings. That’s what artists do. Even in times of horror, their songs ring in the throats and hearts of the people who created them and the people who remember them. In this time of uncertainty, one of IMMD’s songs, “Спогад” (from their new album, Mysto), with it’s rich evocation of Kyiv – “It’s so good to walk when the chestnuts bloom” — has been adopted by many in Ukraine as an anthem of belief in the eternal and living spirit of their besieged country.
VIDEO: IMMD “Mysto”
I spoke with Olena Kryvoviaz via Zoom and email between Friday, March 4 and Sunday, March 6. Of course the situation in the Ukraine shifts dramatically hour to hour, so some of the things referred to in this piece may have changed since this conversation. But one thing hasn’t changed. Hope.
Where are you right now?
Olena: I’m in a safe place, and that’s very good. We are from Kyiv, but now our band members our scattered through the country. Some of our band members are in Lviv. Our keyboard player is still in Kyiv. Our drummer right now is in Rivne, which is also a western city. Unfortunately, our producer is in Bucha right now, a small city that has suffered from Russian rockets very much. It’s not far very from the Hostomel airport, where a lot of explosions were, and a lot of Russian soldiers are fighting with our brave Ukrainian defenders. My husband and I and our son – he is one and a half – we are in Carpathian Mountains. Outside, it is a very beautiful winter. It’s hard to imagine what is happening a few kilometers from where we are. We still hear alarms, but all things considered it is quiet here. We are supporting our army online, donating to our army, and of course trying to share information about what is going on with the rest of the world. The Russians are trying to say there’s no war. I do not understand how people believe in that. We know what we see, what we hear. I know what my parents, who are still in Kyiv, tell me. It’s impossible to believe what the Russians say. Today my aunt managed to escape from Kyiv on train with her two kids. It’s very dangerous because rockets explode near this railway station. Of course we are worried about our families. We buy food, drink, and lights, and first we send it to our army, and then next to the people who have no possibility to hide or escape.
The support for Ukraine in the United States is enormous.
We feel the support from all over the world. Our listeners from all over the world write us every day asking us every day how they can help, and I send them the link to donate to our army [this link is at the bottom of this article]. We feel it. We feel it. Of course we would be glad if NATO closed the sky over Ukraine. Our army on the land, they’re working good, but these rockets flying from Russia are the biggest, biggest tragedy, and they’re hitting women and children. I don’t know what to say. We really need to close the sky, but they said no.
President Zelensky has emerged as a real hero in the west.
We are so proud to have such a president, in such a situation. He is in Kyiv. He is Kyiv. He is fighting. He is not a coward, at all. He is not Putin, hidden in a shelter, 30 meters underground. We are proud of having such a president. It is impossible to imagine someone acting better than him in this situation. Before the election, he gave an interview where he said, you know me as a comedian, and you may not understand why I should be your president, but one day, you will understand, and you will be proud. He predicted that people would weep when he leaves office, and I am certain that is true. When he leaves his office, the whole nation will cry.
VIDEO: Zelensky speaks to the UN
Were you shocked when the invasion began?
We certainly knew there was a possibility, and many people were discussing it, but to be honest, none of us really believed it would happen. We thought, maybe, maybe, something might happen in the west of our county. But we could not imagine that rockets would fly all over Ukraine. We were in Ternopil when the war begins, in the east of Ukraine. An alert woke us up on the 24th. My mom called me – she was in Kyiv, and she’s still in Kyiv – and she told, me, “It has begun.” Every morning now we are staring not with the coffee, but with chatting with our relatives and friends to check on their safety and understand the situation. That is our new reality. Last year we went on a big tour all over Ukraine, many cities, and we remember a peaceful Kharkiv Square, which has now been bombed. We remember peaceful Babin Yar near Kyiv, my parents not far from there, now bombed. A lot of such things, and it is impossible to believe that yesterday it was okay, and today we don’t have this place at all. It’s very hard.
It doesn’t really seem appropriate to talk about your music, but the music of I Miss My Death is full darkness and light, and it seems almost very well suited to these times.
Our latest album is in the Ukrainian language, and what we sing now, many people seem inspired by it, and are citing the lyrics in the videos and social media. Mysto, our latest album, was a full album about Kyiv, about its mysticism and history. It’s remarkable, people are now using our songs to say how they love the city, their homeland.
I’ve been spending some time with Ukrainian metal music – especially your group, and the bands Scarleth, Interiia, and Motanka — and I am really struck by how unique it is. All of these groups have strong female singers, and this mixture of black metal and folk, the power and the beauty, the newness and the tradition.
There are so many creative people here. We have been told that Ukrainians have a super-developed sense of melody, and that may come out in what we do and what other Ukrainian artists do. We have been told this comes from a long tradition of our grandparents and great-grandparents always singing. I do think it makes us combine genres, many genres, in different ways. Even within the symphonic metal genre, we have a lot of amazing and very diverse bands. I believe this situation will push us to create even more music. Music is the way that musicians express their thoughts, what they are feeling and experiencing. I believe what will come out of this is amazing music, but very dark music, too. But on the other hand, there will be light. We all hope and believe in light, in a good future. We need this hope to survive.
You are classically trained?
Yes. I used to work in operetta and in theatre. And I went to the music academy in Kyiv. In 2018, I decided to finish the classical and theatre career, and just focus on metal.
VIDEO: I Miss My Death “Prymara”
I have a difficult question. It must be very hard to look into the future; you must just live one day at a time. But have you thought about how you will continue, and work as a musician, if the war doesn’t go so well, if there is an occupation, or a puppet government?
I am trying not to think about bad things. Bad things are happening every day, every hour. I cannot imagine not continuing to write music. I hope all of us will be alive, first of all, and healthy, and that our families will be with us. But we cannot not create. IMMD was created by my husband, and he has told me, no matter what, IMMD will not die. I understand scenarios could be different. I believe in our president. I believe in our army, and our Ukrainian people. And I believe everything will be okay. Right now, right now we are here, doing what we can for our country. Let’s not think about negative things.
What does Ukrainian identity mean to you?
I am not a politician or historian. I can’t give you concrete numbers or speak for all the Ukrainians. I can give you my opinion. My family members came from different parts of Ukraine. My husband’s family has Trypillian central Ukrainian roots. My father was born in Mirgorod, near Poltava, the cradle of the modern Ukrainian language and Gogol’s homeland. My mother was born in Donetsk, a historically Russian-speaking region that is now occupied by the Russians. Despite this diversity, we all identify ourselves as Ukrainians. Ukrainians – who are they? Who are we? And why are we different from our Slavic neighbors Russia and Poland? Here are my thoughts.
First of all, I believe that the need for independence and democracy is in our blood. Perhaps it began in the Cossack period. After the lands of Kievan Rus were depleted by the Mongol-Tatar yoke, and we found ourselves under the influence of Poland, this did not suit many. This is how the Zaporizhzhya Sich and many other Cossack state formations appeared. They had a democratic structure and for many years fought simultaneously with Poland, Russia, and Turkey. They fought for their freedom and the right to live in their own land. I am proud of being the direct ancestor of these people. Did you know that the first constitution in the world was the Legal System and Constitution regarding the Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporozhian Army, published in 1710?
What is also a key point of Ukrainian identity is hard work and intelligence. You know, when the Soviet Union appeared, everyone should have been equal, but the Ukrainian villagers were much richer than Russians, only because we had a tradition of hard work, which helped create good farms. Of course, the Ukrainians did not want to give away what they had earned by overwork, and the communist regime had to resort to several famines to quench their ardor. It was the genocide of our people. My great-grandmother told me about those horrible crimes.
And today, our main resource is manpower. Ukraine is one the most popular IT recruitment destinations in the world. So, I believe that these factors form our identity regardless of the language we speak and our location. That explains why we are fighting so hard right now. And, I hope, this may help the world to understand why having Ukraine as independent country on our map is so important for the whole democratic world.
Olena Kryvoviaz has requested that those interested in helping the people of the Ukraine go to this link:
Also, Please follow I Miss My Death on Facebook and Instagram (immdband).