For most veterans of Ukraine’s war in Donbas, returning to normal life is not the only challenge. They also have to face the struggle of talking about the horrifying events they have experienced.
Anastasiya Shevchenko is among the many Ukrainians who have faced this struggle. After taking part in the Maidan Revolution of 2013-14, she decided to join Ukraine’s armed forces as a volunteer and fight in the Donbas war, becoming an army medic at the age of 20.
Ms Shevchenko is one of the few veterans openly expressing their feelings and discussing the human side of their experience. And she does it in a rather unusual, sometimes provocative, but touching way – using the power of music.
In Ukraine, she is now better known as Stasik (short for Anastasiya), a singer whose music, in emotional terms, is very hard to listen to. “We like pretty things, but what we need is genuine things,” she told Hromadske.
In her latest music video, running under the suggestive title Lullaby for the Enemy, she sings of her wish for the enemy “to become Ukrainian soil for wanting [to conquer] this land”. Instead of names or any concrete references, she expresses her feelings using strong metaphors and unusual visual images.
Aside from telling the story of what it is like to be a soldier in an ongoing war, she is also highly expressive of what it means to fight as a woman in a country where traditional expectations for both genders remain dominant. One of her songs is titled Shadow Fighting, and reveals the fear she faced as a female combatant.
Discussing her experience with Hromadske, Ms Shevchenko said that the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv was a life-changing experience, noting that her young life was an “accelerated natural revolution” and how she kept herself together in Ukraine’s war-torn east “using merely her survival instinct and willpower”.
“I went ahead and my body just, sort of, had to adapt, but now I am paying the price,” she continued, wishing for “the energy to go forward in life.”
Shevchenko says that identifying herself as a veteran was an important step to take, since many of those who served in the Donbas war and have now returned to their homes feel shame about what they were doing.
“We rarely forgive each other the fear or aggressive behaviour,” she told Hromadske, urging people to accept veterans as they really are: human beings.
Having returned to her folklore studies, besides singing she now hosts The Healthy Person’s Cultural Poster, a programme on Ukraine’s 1TV channel.