Mad Max in Ukraine

The hall is packed out as people wait expectantly for the arrival of the bard. We snaffle a couple of free seats, surrounded by the young and not so young, who pay us no mind as they gazed intently at the black curtain. This theatre was once one of the Jewish centres of Chernivtsi, a cosmopolitan cultural capital in western Ukraine, part of northern Bukovina, and which annually hosts the Meridian Czernowitz International Literary Festival. After a little while, Serhiy Zhadan, described by Marci Shore as “the Bard of eastern Ukraine”, appears alongside two guitarists to a rapturous welcome from the crowd. 

With his sharp features, dressed all in black with half-mast trousers and a sweatshirt, his hair shaved to a grade one on the sides with the rest swept back, Zhadan sits somewhere between a version of James Dean (had he reached the age of 40) and Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan (with whom he shares musical inclinations as well as a physical resemblance). He grabs the microphone and uses his powerful voice to ask those who are standing or sitting on the steps around the entrance to get on stage and sit beside him. For two hours, Zhadan and his band Zhadan i Sobaky (“Zhadan and The Dogs”, formerly known as “Dogs in the Cosmos”) play some of the ‘ska’ songs that have become key musical references for this generation in Ukraine, as well as other tunes to accompany Zhadan’s poetry. 

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