Here in Ukraine, whether on a war-time road trip, in a front-line soldiers’ mess, or in a city café, sometimes a popular American song comes on the radio—sending people into a strange silent meditation: Is this really happening?
By Joe Lindsley
LVIV—Yesterday at the Café Facet in Lviv, Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it” came on the speakers. As an American, I am sick of music overplayed on the radio in the USA. It’s always felt empty to me. But here in Ukraine, I found meaning in it.
I looked around me: people were tapping their feet, some singing softly and politely but seeming like they wanted to scream, some mouthing the words fiercely.
“We’re not gonna take it, no, we ain’t gonna take it”
Listen here: open.spotify.com
The little café is like a village train station, where everyone, facing each other, can join in a single conversation. Gathered were some of the top volunteers helping the victory effort—but also people I didn’t know.
Listening, the staff and customers all had instant solidarity. Maybe even the little dog sniffing the black and white tile floor looking for crumbs, snapping at anyone who got in his way, was also thinking, 'I ain’t gonna take it."
As I know from nearly every conversation—every conversation—these past days, we all know someone who has died in Bakhmut or somewhere on the front. The death toll is staggering, more than we can all imagine. As the saying goes, Moscow sends its possessed, dispossessed, prisoners; Ukraine is sending its Olympians, poets, and philosophers.
“At the beginning of the war, I looked forward to victory,” a woman mourning the death of a soldier friend, told me. “Now,” she said, “I don’t want to think of it. I can only think of the people we have lost.”
In the war, there’s fierceness and romance, nobility and heroism, sure, but every bit of this is still hell. Yes— death is for all. It’s just more often, intense, and comes earlier here. And that is indeed hell.
I have a friend, a Ukrainian warrior fighting in Bakhmut who before the 2022 full-scale invasion was a civilian with a growing IT company. I texted him asking what he wanted the world to know about the situation in that besieged Donbas town.
“That here is hell,” he replied. “Pure hell. Tons of casualties from both sides. The main point is - [R]ussians are set to kill every single man in Ukraine and destroy completely our culture and memory.”
Ukrainians and foreign fighters, aided by brave volunteers, are putting up a hell of a fight, as Russia indeed seeks to erase the memory of Ukrainian identity. Just look at Putin or Putin-double’s visit to Mariupol, smiling and pretending Russia has saved the city it has actually destroyed.
This makes so many people here want to cry out at the evil absurdity like Kafka in one of his novels. I recall another overplayed American radio song I never liked: “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes, whose meaning is now forever compelling to me.
On a war-time road trip from oft-bombed Mykolaiv to Kyiv, through the unlit highways, I was traveling with three great friends—a Ukrainian from Nikopol, another from Lviv, and a French volunteer often in the danger zones. We were not a quiet bunch—always exchanging good-natured insults, jokes, dreams, stories about women, war, life. Really, we rarely stopped talking.
Then as we drove through the lush fall fields, the road lined with trees like Tuscany, which our French friend said reminded him of southern France, that furious tune, “What’s Up,” came on the radio … and in the gloaming greenery we fell silent.
Listen here: open.spotify.com
Watch the road-trip scene here: