A Ukrainian singer finds his voice on the streets of Warsaw, Poland: NPR

Roman Panchenko moved to Poland from Chernihiv a few years ago and was afraid to sing in the street. But now, after the war broke out, he is singing Ukrainian songs in a square in Warsaw to help his country.



ARI SHAPIRO, GUEST:

In Poland, the Old Town of Warsaw is a scenic hotspot full of tourists taking selfies, which is why it is also a favorite place for buskers. In the main square, called Castle Square, a man in his twenties stands with a friend in front of a towering obelisk. He strums and sings, his long hair tucked under a brown leather baseball cap. At his feet are mismatched socks – one yellow, one blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

ROMAN PANCHENKO: I’m from Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Roman Panchenko grew up in the city of Chernihiv and moved to Poland a few years ago, but he only started performing street performers after Russia invaded his homeland.

PANCHENKO: I was afraid to sing in the street. We started after the war.

SHAPIRO: Why did you start after the war?

PANCHENKO: Because I think the best way to help my country was to promote some songs from Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: More than 3 million Ukrainians have moved to Poland in less than three months and Roman can recognize them in the crowd. Their faces light up.

PANCHENKO: They feel a bit uncomfortable in this country because they think there are a few Ukrainians, but there are a lot of Ukrainians in this country. And we all stand together. As you can see, the woman comes up to me and asks if we can play the anthem of Ukraine, the national anthem of Ukraine. I say yes.

SHAPIRO: How often does that happen?

PANCHENKO: Actually, every time we come here, every time someone came up to us and just asked to play some more Ukrainian.

(Vocalizing).

I will play a song. It mentions “Lyudey”, (ph) “Humans”, from the band BoomBox. I will sing it for you and for other people because it is about (Ukrainian speaking).

(Singing in Ukrainian).

(Ukrainian spoken).

(Singing in Ukrainian).

We are only human when we love much.

(Singing in Ukrainian).

Some songs – when I sing I don’t feel it. But I can literally feel this song with full emotion.

(Singing in Ukrainian).

SHAPIRO: Every time Roman Panchenko sees one of his fellow Ukrainians in the audience, he ends his song the same way.

PANCHENKO: Glory to Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Glory to Ukraine – Glory to Ukraine.

We’ll be reporting from Poland throughout next week with stories of how the Ukrainian refugee crisis is spreading across society – Monday, how schools are integrating some of the war’s youngest refugees.

UNKNOWN PERSON: When you see the first graders whose nature is to move, tremble, and you see that they are frozen, they have no emotion, just empty eyes.

PANCHENKO: (Singing in Ukrainian).

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