Conductor and military officer Bohdan Ivakhiv. A big interview about life before and during the full-scale war

Bohdan Ivakhiv has been a soldier of the Third Separate Assault Brigade since last year. Previously, he worked as a conductor of the Luhansk Philharmonic in Severodonetsk, and before that he studied at the National Music Academy of Ukraine. We were fellow students, neighbors in the dormitory and remained good friends. By the way, it was Bohdan who was my first “guest” in the interview genre for the course submit text, which was lost somewhere on physical media. Then the conversation related to student projects, attitude to music, and sometimes delved into the details of the scores, because that was important to us.

On March 12 of this year, Bohdan was wounded near Bakhmut and has been undergoing rehabilitation ever since. This time, we recorded a long conversation and present it without abbreviations, only with some literary corrections. Before the recording, I suggested that Bohdan feel free to express himself — and, if necessary, feel free to use profanity, which will not be censored in the text. The need arose only once, so the text contains profanity once.

Bohdan Ivakhiv
Bohdan Ivakhiv

About life in Severodonetsk before the full-scale war 

Once I told you that it is not clear how to make an interview with a person I know very well. And usually the closest people are the hardest to talk about. When writing someone’s biography, the closest people are the most out of context, because they talk about some kind of life and so on. And that’s why it’s hard for me to ask you questions, to be honest.

But you ask, I will answer.

Let’s start with who were you before the beginning of the 2022? Where were you, what did you do and what was your path?

Who was I with? (laughs)

Before the full-scale war, from 2020 to 2022, I was the conductor of the Luhansk Philharmonic, and since I was one conductor, I was automatically the chief conductor. Well, this is such a relative thing. Of course, I was a conductor, but in fact I led the orchestra of the Luhansk Philharmonic for two years. What does it mean? Not just a pathetic “I was in charge”, but really everything was tied to me. And almost every week, or sometimes every two weeks, there was a concert with a new program. Moreover, it was quite not banal, because it was a typical symphony orchestra that played symphonies, symphonic poems, sometimes there were some vocals. This is a typical Kyiv or Kharkiv philharmonic orchestra, not an ordinary regional orchestra. That’s what I was doing.

It’s an interesting story because you come from Ternopil (western part of Ukraine). From Proshova near Ternopil, to be more precise. Then you studied in Kyiv and eventually moved to Severodonetsk (on East) and worked there for almost two years. Your perception of the context of this city in general is interesting. Because now the city is under occupation, but at that time it was very close to the frontline. And there was its own atmosphere. What were your impressions then?

This city is atmospheric since it was created almost from scratch around the “Azote” plant. It began to be built before the Second World War, and after the Second World War, the city was actually built on the site of former villages. It is very compact and very geometric: even square yards, very similar. There is an old city and a new city. It is very small: you can walk anywhere in the city in 30 minutes. I did that. I just had 30 minutes to work, I walked. And it was the best atmosphere for my work. I had time to walk, I had time to work. And I just got high from the fact that everything is so quiet and does not interfere with my work.

This is a perfect city. If we compare three cities — Ternopil, Kyiv and Severodonetsk — the last had ideal conditions for work. I never aspired to work in Ternopil. I even once directly told to myself that I would never work here, because it is difficult to work with people whom you know at that level, from when you were a student. They know you, and it is difficult to deal with this in a professional way. And when you are not burdened by anything, as in Kyiv, it is quite simple and easy.

But by some chance it happened that I was contacted by the Luhansk Philharmonic. They were looking for a conductor, and I just… Here some kind of intuition worked. When I’m just like, “Yeah, I’ll go there, and I’ll be there.” And it lived up to some… not even expectations. There were no hopes at all. It proved that I had made the right choice. I didn’t hesitate at all.

My professor Viktor Zdorenko supported me. Even then, I was finishing my master’s degree, the last year, and he said: “You go there, work, and don’t even bother about anything .”

How was the artistic infrastructure in the city? How often, for example, were there philharmonic concerts?

Philharmonic concerts — absolutely every week. Usually, there were several concerts. We had a pop-folk group, which had a small choir, a very good instrumental group, and vocalists. There was also a pop-rock band. And these three groups (including the symphony orchestra) created the entire life of the Philharmonic. They worked continuously on new programs. And, often, a regular week had a concert of one of the groups plus a symphony orchestra concert, and the following week — a concert of another group and a symphony orchestra. The symphony orchestra probably had a concert every week 95 percent of the time. That is, it is a new program every week.

I liked that. Although it completely exhausted me in two years, this conveyor, it is very difficult to work in such mode. Every day you just live to solve problems according to the score. You think about how to fix some problems of a specific person with their specific capabilities at that level, and besides, you encounter something new for yourself.

And as for the programs: did you offer them, or was it an indication of some kind council?

No, by the way, not council. In half of all symphony orchestra programs, I proposed… These were conversations with the chief manager. Since we did not have an artistic manager, these functions were divided between us. I’ve only been rejected for one program and I really regret not playing it. Part of the programs was timed to some events from our “calendar-ritual cycle” (laughs). And some programs were offered by the chief simply as ideas, concrete works.

I had a large repertoire after the academy of symphonic or vocal-symphonic music. But, for example, for Dvořák’s anniversary, I listened to everything he had just written for orchestra. Then it expanded my repertoire a little. And there were many such cases.

How were you perceived in general? You are literally still a student and quite a young conductor, and there are people who worked in Luhansk before the occupation, then left and continued to work in the orchestra. Were there any moments of bias?

What did their perception depend on? On my professionalism. There was, for example, a situation that shows at what level they perceived me from the very first programs. I prefer such a conducting ideology that you must understand absolutely everything that happens in a symphony orchestra: the technology of each instrument, the performance level of each performer, the level and condition of his instrument, what he can and cannot do with this instrument, what he can do with a better one. All my conscious life I was preparing to deal with this. And at that time I was working on some program. These were initially the programs that I knew very, very well. And I told the violin group that here we change the strokes because of this and that. And we changed, and they agreed, it was all very fun, lively. It was surprising that they were so easily led to all my wishes. And during the break, several experienced violinists asked me: “Who did you learn the violin with?”. That is, they didn’t even know that I wasn’t a violinist at all and hadn’t studied music at all since childhood — well, that’s how it turned out for me.

Well, in short, they were ready for a young, somewhat promising dude. Here came a dude who told them how and what to play, it all works out and gets better. That is, they perceived me as an equal. I have never experienced this moment when older, more experienced people would pass… I was perceived as a conductor. This is what I liked: that they did not know me before and, seeing my level, they simply accepted me as I am in my professional life. It was really a big compliment for me that I had been studying it for 10 years.

Did you see the prospect of growth and development within the Luhansk Philharmonic?

As a stage. It was at the beginning, about a month or two, four or five concerts had already taken place. I understood that there is room for growth here, both for the orchestra and for me. But on the professional path, this is a stage that I will go through, it will end, and it will give me a lot of experience, new knowledge, and practice in bringing the team to some other level.

It was an ambitious goal: to raise them in level, to raise myself and pass this stage to go further to a higher level.

Bohdan Ivakhiv
Bohdan Ivakhiv

The beginning of the invasion

I remember I called you a week before the full-scale invasion. You were in a bus or trolleybus then. I asked you about the people’s mood in Severodonetsk because this is the East, and all this tension is much closer than to Kyiv. And then you said: “Everything is okay, people are calm.” And it was a completely different story when I called on February 24th. When you talked about queues at ATMs, not understanding how to leave or get on the train. Tell me about these two extreme moments before and after. How did you experience it and how did you perceive it?

It was so, as I said then. It was not a lie. That is, until the full-scale invasion, literally until the first bomb fell in my city, in Severodonetsk, I did not feel any pressure from anyone about the fact that we would be attacked and russians start fighting. In general. If we talked a week before, then for several weeks my relatives have been calling me every day and saying: “Go, leave!”. And I did not understand at all what they were talking about.

It was a completely peaceful life, no one was stressed, no one left, no one ran away. We had plans for the next programs, I was preparing what I had in the future. And the day before the full-scale invasion, we recorded music for the Luhansk Regional Theater. By the way, there was some French musical. They were preparing something for March and had to record it as playbacks for their vocalists. And we, as a symphony orchestra, recorded music for them until 10 p.m. on February 23rd. They recorded, not knowing what was ahead. We were just doing our job.

I recorded it with a calm soul and came home. Fell asleep around three o’clock. I always fell asleep late. And somewhere at seven in the morning I woke up from the fall of the rocket. My house shook. I was on the fifth, last, floor. I didn’t know how it was falling there, but I heard that the second one was already flying. I just stood amorphously in the room and thought: “Well, dude, I’m on the top floor, now it’ll fly here.”

And then I simply did not have cash with me. I understood that to go somewhere (which is 1,200 kilometers across the country to my home), you need to have cash for transport and food with you at least on the way. And just ran to the ATM. It didn’t work. I met an acquaintance from the Philharmonic. He needed to recharge his mobile account. I said: “Let me transfer it to your mobile account, and you give me cash.” So I made some first pennies. I helped him, he helped me. And then I stood for another three hours at one promising ATM, withdrew cash and thought: “What’s next?”.

And then there was no way to get to the train because the railway does not go to Severodonetsk: either to Lysychansk or to Rubizhne. There was no one to go with, it was impossible to call a taxi. A terrible war began. We were in touch with my friend, who is currently engaged in the entire full-scale war, taking humanitarian aid to people in the most critical cities and villages throughout the East. And takes people out. He is directly under the same bombs, only not in the trenches, but in the cities that are being bombed. This friend of mine played viola in my orchestra. I knew he had a car and just asked if he had taken his family because he had a young son. Just wondered if he evacuated them. By that time he had already sent them away, but he stayed behind because he still had some business to do. I say: “Can’t you give me half an hour and take me to the station?”. He said, “No.” And five minutes later he was at my house and took me to Rubizhne.

There we met the director with whom we recorded music for the theater. We just met the next morning at the train station, running away from the war, greeted each other and thought that we did a great job yesterday. The main thing is that it will come in handy. (laughs) And it was something like this:

– What is there in March? Where will the concert be?

– Probably not here. Maybe in Drohobych (West of Ukraine).

I had these feelings very far from real life. I was not socialized at all because I lived 24/7 with the problems of musical scores. That was all that piqued my interest. I lived to perform music. I didn’t know how I was supposed to cook when I had to buy something there for a living. And at that moment when it was necessary to take specific actions — to leave — if some people did not happen to make sure that I was safe, then I do not know what would have happened. This is a matter of chance. Even when the war started, I was quite calm. Just knew that the ultimate goal was to get home. It didn’t matter what happened on the way. Well, let’s go. There is nothing to go to — well, I will be here. It’s OK. Well, somehow I will walk 50 kilometers to the station. Anyway, as I was packing my suitcase when the bomb landed, I took the suitcase and automatically threw everything there. And I still chose. I take three T-shirts. I still have five left. I thought why should I take them? I took one pair of shoes, the other was on me. Concert suit. But why should I take it? In about a month we will return here anyway, we will play a concert. And that’s why, somehow, I had a very amorphous attitude to all that, I didn’t even realize that I wouldn’t come back here again. It came later that I would return there, but in a different way.

Do you have any things left in Severodonetsk?

Yes: a concert suit, a baton my professor gave me, the best baton I ever had, my scores. A lot of everything, more than half of the things. I simply did not take them, I carried a half-empty suitcase because it was easy for me. Just so that I don’t care and go with the thought that I will still come back here. That was the inner feeling.

Do you know about your flat there now?

I knew around the beginning of last summer that there was one huge hole in my rented apartment and the one next door. If you try, you can get there from the outside.

Bohdan Ivakhiv
Bohdan Ivakhiv

About the decision to defend the country

Did you come to Ternopil and literally somewhere immediately went to Territorial defense (TD)?

It is such a long distance from there, 1,200 kilometers, and it almost always took more than a day. I left on the 24th, on the 25th, probably in the evening, I arrived home, literally already to my village. On the morning of the 26th, my friend and I were already at the point where you gave your documents and were enrolled in the territorial defense.

Was it a preconceived decision, or was it spontaneous, prompted by the desire to be more effective at that moment?

Well, it was not deliberate in advance. In a sense, there is a first step — a great war has begun, so you must go to a place where you will be safe. The second step is to join the ranks of those who oppose those who attacked us. The third step is to learn something in those ranks that will contribute to our defense. That is, it was just somehow on the subconscious mind that I should do.

I did not doubt whether I should continue to think about how to continue my musical life there, how to leave the country or something else. No. It was quite logical: first go from there, where the troops were already standing 20 kilometers from you, just so as not to die under the bombs, to the place where they can teach you, and you will come from the other side and be with them on equals. There is no heroism in that. It’s just logical. I came home and went to study military affairs.

As far as I understand, it wasn’t some unit of the TD, which later became part of the Armed Forces?

It is like in any city or village, immediately everyone mobilized who wants to defend our country. Pick up a weapon, shoot at the enemy. Literally. I found out what it was called only a few months later. Then it was all called the TD. From the smallest village to the big city, we all thought it was the same. After a short time, we had our weapons, we were given a certificate, we learned to shoot a little, engaged in some tactical exercises. Everyone I was with, 20 people from one village, all learned from scratch.

Well, it all moved to the point that the gestalt was not closed just because you went voluntarily and plus or minus you now have an excuse for not sitting still. I wanted to go so far as to protect, to fight with them. Wow! They came to our house and want to destroy us! Well, something must be done!

Later, I realized that I needed to find a unit in which I would be professionally trained in this, in which I would be useful. And so already at the end of May, I was looking for a unit to which I could go. I didn’t reject the Military Commissariat right away. There was literally a month of hesitation with the Military Commissariat. But this is such a structure, I already know, which is not connected with the army in any way. This is a chaotic, filthy, soviet structure, corrupt to the depths of everything there is. And she is not engaged in her work at all. If they somehow contribute to something, then it is purely accidental, because they have in their hands the documents of everyone who has reached a certain age.

In fact, we are a fantastic country, because even in such bad situations, we have many options for development. Well, this option, I didn’t think about it anymore, became the propaganda of various volunteer units. And, of course, after the battles for Mariupol, professional and harmonious, the Azov people fought heroically in an absolute minority, it was a huge respect.

I saw in an advertisement on YouTube that they are recruiting. I watched several videos where they promote this idea that no one is born a warrior. They become warriors. And in order to protect your country, you have to become one. And we will teach you how to become a warrior. And it was just so… Somehow, I believed them. I just took it, sent them an application. It’s all very simple. It’s like you, I don’t know, ordering a taxi. You send them a request that you need to go there, they call back or write back that they confirm. So here too. They simply called back and said: “Yes, come to us. We will check you and train you.” That’s it.

Why did you decide to abandon music? Even Luhansk Philharmonic was evacuated to Lviv, other teams were also actively working, having concert tours abroad.

Music abandoned by itself. The music stopped as the first rocket fell. I didn’t know about it yet, I was still asleep, and she had already fallen silent and didn’t make a sound. And until now it does not sound in the same sense as it did before February 24th. For me, she is now on the verge of survival, that we must finish one thing and then do music. We have to reach victory and then do music. It is for me so.

I support people who continue to do it now and develop the direction in which I was engaged. They promote our music not only for Ukrainians, but have tours around different countries, playing Ukrainian programs and talking abroad about our troubles and our struggle.

I have absolutely no motivation to do this because I think that I will not lead my country to victory with it. I will not protect my city in the perspective of the coming days. I will not be able to influence the course of hostilities by playing music. And being in the ranks of any military structure, I will be able to influence directly.

That’s how it works. As in ants. They all gathered together, raised a large stick, moved it three meters to the right.

About service in Special Operations Forces “Azov” and 3rd Separate Assault Brigade

Tell me about the “Azov” recruitment program. Am I calling it right?

Yes, yes, recruiting. This terminology, by the way, and various traditions, such as starting the morning with the prayer of a Ukrainian nationalist, are not invented, they are simply revived from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

As far as I understand, this recruitment is very busy, firstly. Secondly, it is very difficult and not everyone passes it.

Most of those who come, go, return home.

What allowed you to go through this program from start to finish?

In fact, the key is no matter how much they want to break you, put pressure on you psychologically so that you break, and give up on your own, you are just being tested. Your moral endurance in case you run out of strength. What happens to a person when he is exhausted, hungry, does not drink and does not satisfy his needs? He just collapses and says: “Let me at least to sleep. Get off me. I want everything to be full, healthy and well-slept.”

They make sure that you are exhausted to zero, after that they put even more pressure on you in order to test you, whether you will do one way or another in a critical situation. Will you give up on what you had to do when you will have no food, no energy, no motivation, you will be thirsty, sleepless, and so on. It’s just that all the biological needs you have will already be at such a low level that you won’t to work. They bring to this level, push. And if you, like a tube, do not release all the paste from yourself, then you will be able to withstand this pressure in the future in such conditions in the war, not to give up and continue to work. This is the basis of professionalism in military affairs. You have to teach your body, your mental health to be ready for these dangers, that you will be completely exhausted.

“Cerberus”, our main instructor, repeated that the result appears only after you are exhausted to zero, and then continue to work, and fall again, and continue to work, and fall again. This can be repeated dozens of times during one day. And after that the result appears. In fact, it is so.

Me and my comrades, with whom I am currently fighting, we literally came to the selection together and passed these tests together. I’m not special, I’m just in a good company. I am pleased to realize that I am in the company of such worthy people.

Well, really, this way they just check whether you can withstand or not. And that was colossal pressure. And it turns out that I can.

How long did it take from the start of the recruiting program until you found yourself in positions?

Everything was very good for me. It was a long time, three and a half months in fact. Because when the boys and I, with whom I am now in the same unit, came for the selection, we came to the Kyiv SOF “Azov” and already got into the Third Assault Brigade. Because the SOF “Azov” were at the level of battalions, and a brigade is a level that includes battalions. It is the largest military structure that independently occupies a huge area of the front and makes independent decisions on what to do — to hold back, to storm and so on. And it was just an assault unit. I was going to a unit where people are working to get their territories back. Destroy the enemy by moving forward, not standing still.

In total, it took me more than three months to study. When we passed the test, we were immediately taken to the training ground, and the entire unit was staffed and coordinated. By chance, I got into an ideal situation, when everyone was on the coordination. We managed to get to know each other, acquire skills and simply become a little bit professional. And waiting for our first time to understand who we are.

How different was reality from the training ground?

The reality was as comrades who had fought before told us. The reality turned out to be exactly as they told.

And at the training ground you are without communication, without any amenities, without a shower, just in the forest. And there is constant communication. What to do if you don’t have a gadget near you? To speak. And everything they said then was just like that.

And there you just learned… Well, you learned to shoot. But you don’t know if the first time you get the chance and you have carte blanche to shoot, you would hold that weapon firmly and shoot just like at cardboard targets, you would work in the same way. You just don’t know it. It turns out differently for everyone.

We agreed that we will not say any such pathetic words, because we have not yet seen war. We were seven completely new people in one unit, and we were aware that we would get to know each other in a new way only after the first times when we had a serious battle. And we shook hands: “See you soon!”. It was a good moment, we remember it.

How did your sworn brothers perceive your education?

When I came to the unit, there was already an artist there. His call sign is “Artist” and he is an artist. There was an architect. You simply understand what a person did before by the call sign. This was not new. Oh, and now we have a conductor. It’s cool. It’s just a bit of variety, but nothing special. Everyone has their own interesting story. I do not know. I wasn’t trying to be special in this way.

Can you tell me the details of an operation that you liked? Which was successful, which was memorable?

I like only those cases when you all returned completely healthy after completing a combat mission, nobody was injured or even killed.

There was one such case, after… In principle, I should not have survived. There were four of us working. And they miraculously survived. We had a position, the essence of which was to cover two other positions. It was taken out into the field (and all the rest are in the landing) so that the russians did not approach this landing. And they climbed around the clock. It was just a battle with the “wagners”, when there were so many of them that they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people around the clock. And this position of ours became the main one as a result, because other artillery positions were simply wiped off the face of the earth. For two days, we engaged in the destruction of the enemy and the evacuation of our comrades, because they were buried by artillery. As a result, we were left with only one position that was supposed to be auxiliary. It is clear that its meaning was to help someone else, so we had an order to retreat, literally 500 meters to reserve positions. All this happened at night, and just then the artillery fired at us, and with the same success should have destroyed our position.

But because of the actions of my platoon commander, “Datsyk”, we got out of the water dry and even managed to save some other people, about whom everyone had forgotten. This is a matter of chance. It all ended at about five in the morning in winter. It was just in complete darkness, but with the help of thermal imaging we found our heavy 300. But, unfortunately, we were already surrounded by three combat groups and we could not physically take him out of there. Although we remained completely intact. This is since my immediate commander was with me, who did his job with absolute calmness and experience and got us out in one piece. After that, we caught up in a very short time. We took it all back…

Here it is important to clarify that we are talking about the Bakhmut direction in winter, from January to March.

Yes, when there were the worst frosts and the toughest battles. And these were exactly positional battles, we were in positions, not storming. We were attacked around the clock by an endless number of  “wagners”.

Can you say that this military experience somehow influenced your outlook, that something changed in you? Has something changed around you?

Nothing has changed at all. I live exactly the same life. I hear music every day, as it sounded before. I just physically don’t go to work to conduct a symphony orchestra, but let’s say, I go to work with a machine gun, a machine gun, a grenade launcher, and so on. But the same thing happens in the head, the thinking has not changed at all. A military affair is as structured a piece that must be played as if to a score. Everything must be spelled out, honed and played down to the details, to every nuance. That’s how I think in my head, some kind of orchestral thinking. Everything boils down to this type of thinking that was in the symphony orchestra.

One thing that has changed is that I simply now know not a few worthy people, but a mass. My closest circle of communication is about 100 people, each of whom I can say is a close friend of mine, or at least one of the closest people. These are about 100 people whom you can trust, whom you trust even with your life.

Bohdan Ivakhiv
Bohdan Ivakhiv

About injuries and rehabilitation

Could you talk about your injury and rehabilitation?

Injury, yes. It was very funny. There is such a defensive reaction that you react to it with humor. Injuring any fellow man is such black humor that you cannot imagine.

For example, I’ll just tell you what happened to me. We went in to perform our combat tasks at six in the morning. Around noon, we all had lunch, smoked, drank energy drinks and then continued our work. Literally ten minutes after our lunch, it just flew at us. To explain: the projectile that flies at you, the sound works in such a way, the physics of the sound, that you do not hear it. You hear him at the last moment. That is, it is a fraction of a millisecond. You just hear a bloop. And this blunder, you hear it, and it has already flown into you. It was a shrapnel projectile that shrapneled four out of five people. I had an arm, a shoulder, a thigh and two huge fragments in my armor. My friend has the same leg. Another one has several fingers on his hand and, unfortunately, one of them died, because he was hit by the largest such scattering of fragments. And it happened by accident. They simply, not knowing where we were, randomly fired at approximately that square. One shell flew by, and while I was putting a tourniquet on myself, completely calmly, put a tourniquet on my leg to stop the bleeding, I already heard a whistle past me. Well, I understood that it would fall somewhere near us, but it flew three hundred meters further.

And thus, even later they concluded because of the investigation that it was a chaotic shelling, and they already knew from where and from what. They accidentally, they didn’t even catch me, but they accidentally just got… It’s a fart , everything is so simple in war.

Well, it was funny, because you hear a crash and you start shouting something because you are very deafened. After two seconds, you shut up and just see two holes in your leg the size of half a palm. And then you do what you are threatened with every day — the tactical medicine. You’re automatically, your hand reaches for the tourniquet, you pull it out, put it on your leg, stop the bleeding, see where there are still wounds and stop the blood from leaking out of you, because it threatens your life.

Well, literally in a few seconds, my sworn brother investigated my zigzag. He was just stunned, and he just asked how I was, because he could see that he was injured. I tell him that everything is fine. He says: “How fine is it? What’s wrong with the leg?”. I say: “Well, my leg is out, but I’m generally OK.” You don’t feel physical pain, it hasn’t come to you yet. I forgot what it’s called correctly. Well, it’s not a pain shock, it’s just that you don’t physically feel such colossal pain, you feel yourself normally.

And you understand simply logically that you need to get out of there, because it can fly there again, and you won’t stay alive. Moreover, everyone who is alive should get out of there, because this is a threat to their life and further functioning. You will be of no use if you stand until the very end. They will kill you. It is better to take a step back, then to take many steps forward. Save lives, thereby ensuring the continued operation of your unit.

Well, it was like that. Immediately, everything was very organized for the evacuation. The guys from a nearby position got the signal. There was a combat medic there, he has a special backpack for paramedics, which contains absolutely everything, there is also a stretcher on which you can pick one up, because my leg was numb, it was held purely on the muscles, the bone was crushed. They took me, pulled me out of the trench, dragged me another 300-400 meters, where an armored vehicle could drive up to take me away quickly. Because if they came closer, they would simply be burned from such a close distance.

10-15 minutes passed from the moment of injury to the moment when I was taken away by transport. It took a little more than an hour before the surgery was done. It was as professional as possible. All threats to my life were eliminated, and there were quite a lot of them: blood loss, infection, and so on. Everyone did their work exactly at the moment when it had to be done. No consequences.

Then already 5 operations within a month. As a result, a piece of iron in the thigh, which will help me for the rest of my life to withstand the load that was on the thigh with a healthy bone. And now it is already the fourth month of rehabilitation. This is constant, daily work on physical condition. These are different exercises, just a lifestyle. Every time you step on your foot, you must mentally control which muscles you use, how you move it step by step. And here it is… You torture yourself, but in order to recover one hundred percent as a result. I have such a perspective.

Do you have the motivation to return to the army?

The motivation to recover 100% in order to return. In principle, nothing will hinder me in life if I limp at the level I am at now. I can stop and live my life peacefully. And in order for me to continue to do the work I was doing until March 12, before the injury, I need to work every day to reach the level that was before the injury.

This is the motivation, of course, to return.

I don’t know if you saw Yurii Gudymenko’s post about wounded soldiers. He says that when he walks down the street, he very often notices that people realize that he is a wounded soldier, it is unpleasant for them to realize this, and they turn away. And that is why he calls on people, when they see wounded soldiers, to nod, look into their eyes, give a sign that they are seen. How do you feel about this story? Have you noticed something similar and how would you like civilians to perceive you now?

From words, simply from words, this story is completely individual. It’s completely different for me. If you use the same categories to think about how you walk down the street, how people react to you, then I have the complete opposite. On the contrary, people pay attention to you. Perhaps you yourself are provoking, or so that they turn away, or so that they look at you and smile. It all depends on you, I think. In my case, it is exactly so, individually.

People pay attention, everyone wants to help and support. It annoys me a little. When I can do something by myself, they help me. And this is not even a matter of your acquaintances, but rather of people whom you see for the first time. That is why it is such an individual story.

I was completely unconscious in the hospital for a month after operations and anesthesia. And for about three months now, I’ve been going to shops, for coffee, meeting with friends, to rehabilitation in various locations right in civilian life. I don’t sit in one place, I don’t see the same people. You will always find people several times a day who will simply sincerely thank you. And you don’t ask why. They understand what they are talking about.

If there are any other cases where someone looked askance at you, these people simply cover the positive with their attitude. You simply understand that they also appreciated your previous work. And it adds more motivation to just work every day, you need to reach the same level to continue doing your professional work, as before. This is such an individual story for me.

I like how society reacts to me. Maybe I’ve seen other cases, even in the same institutions that I’ve been in, that some people, it’s hard for them to socialize back. They live in their own world, they are very, very closed. For some, being so depressed makes it very difficult to recover. They have no motivation to give strength here on recovery. There is no strength to force yourself to eat the way you should eat, drink water, how much you should drink a day. They are in order not to endure this pain anymore. And thus they influence others, even strangers. Well, they are the same as they are, depressingly relate to them. When you see a person in a depressed state, you will react to it in the same way. You will think how hard it is for him, and you will be with such a twisted face.

In my case, it is a little different, because I am in such a depraved unit that I still live and sleep with the life of my unit. That is, for me, even though I am thousands of kilometers away from the place where they are currently continuing their work, engaging in assaults, training and military life, I still live there. I know about everything, about every operation, who, what, where, whom, what needs to be fixed, what needs to be helped, and what they want to help me with. We are absolutely in touch with everyone.

These are approximately 25-28 people with whom you directly know about them, what they live with.

At our previous meeting, I asked you, how do you cope with losses? Because they cannot be avoided. Can you answer this question now?

There are two moments with the loss of the fellows. One thing when this happens during some sort of combat mission. Whether you like it or not, you are in such a situation that you still have to continue to act. If even you understand, you can directly see that your sworn brother died, he is already dead, you are just very cynical about it. In the sense that you simply accept it as a fact that he is gone now. He won’t help us anymore. This is roughly how it can be described. Now he is gone, we have minus one person, what should we do next to ensure the further functioning of our defense or attack?

There is a second point that I felt already here. When I know that my sworn brothers went on an assault, and a very, very, very close person died there. Here the reaction is absolutely the same as in peaceful life. In addition to the fact that you realize that this is death, that this is your close person and that you will not see him again, and that his life will not continue, and his family has lost a loved one, this is, in addition, such an awareness, which he was engaged in business. You know him not by his peaceful life, but by what he did for the whole country. That he was one of those on whom everyone else’s life depended. And you realize that this is directly about each of my sworn brothers who died, and I was not around at the time. You understand that this is a fallen hero. I can say about everyone that it was so. In fact, all the things he did during his military activity flash through his head in one moment. If he hadn’t been there, the other would have died, he covered him there. And if he wasn’t covered then… And you just scroll through all the moments that threatened your life.

It is always a matter of life and death. Here it is much more difficult to bear. Of course, it could sound bad and strange.

Bohdan Ivakhiv
Bohdan Ivakhiv

About music, civil life and dreams

Let’s talk a little more about music. The one that exists in civilian life. I don’t know if you have been following how and what is happening in Ukrainian musical life. How do you generally feel about those key ideas that have been talked about during this year and a half? This is the cancellation of russian culture, the promotion and performance of Ukrainian music. And in general, how do you feel about the expression “cultural front”?

Here is the first moment, look, it will be immediately clear my attitude to what is happening now. There are a lot of people who were engaged in propaganda of Ukrainian music, canceling russian music even before the full-scale invasion during the eight, now nine years of our war. And I joined that business in 2020. I moved to Severodonetsk to directly promote Ukrainian music. And thereby eliminate russian music and its influence. Being there, 30 kilometers from the front then, plus or minus in a peaceful life, I joined the circle of people who promoted the Ukrainian language in those territories where it was most needed. And the promotion of music is the promotion of culture. This is the cultivation of everything Ukrainian.

I did it and I just understand the conditions under which it is done. Now there is huge support from all sides, comprehensively, even from people from other spheres, in what various figures are doing in the cultural direction. And then it was such a limited circle. I understood who was doing it and who I was joining with that work. I just see the continuation of my work already in a situation of full-scale war. This is absolutely the right job. And I appreciate those people who were doing it before it was mainstream.

And the relationship with those figures who are engaged in this… I stopped doing music, I am engaged in military affairs. I’ve passed that stage, and I realize that I’ll be more effective at something else. Those people who do it, just do it. Now I very, very roughly know the state of things in my former field. But I know a lot of people from our area who are engaged in this.

And I am sure that this matter is in good hands. We still have many worthy people who have not left the country, who work for the development of the musical sphere, literally the development of symphonic music. This will ensure the future life of this area.

Although I see it only in the form of a radical restructuring. Now it works absolutely wrong with us. And with the demolition of this scoop mechanism, this entire musical culture, this sphere will breathe a completely new life and open a lot of new people who will become our future as a result.

I came to terms with the fact that maybe my generation, I don’t know how long there is left to live, the generation of people who were born in the 90s and 2000s, was destined to be with a weapon in their hands. Those who are younger, I cherish the hope that maybe they and their children will already live in a normal context. When Ukrainian culture will be cultivated and developed accordingly throughout the entire territory of Ukraine . Because when it is cultivated, it is simply a process of cultivation, selection. Because there is good music and bad music. Cultivation is cultivating the best. In order to grow the best, you have to cut with a rake and rake all the rubbish that prevents the cultivation of what you want to grow. In order for the spikelets to germinate, they need to be freed from all kinds of weeds .

This is how I globally see the field in which I have been engaged for 10 years of my life: we need to get rid of many, many things that hinder its development. The worst is the scoop system of functioning.

We are far behind these examples of systems that work: in Germany, Austria, Switzerland. Or the American system, it’s also quite interesting there. This sphere must be built, rebuilt in a new way. This is possible only if we win. We will win, but it is possible to rebuild only after victory. But if we do not win, then we will simply be slaves, a colony on which our culture is not cultivated.

And how do you feel about those performers who work with russian performers abroad or perform Russian music?

Ukrainians who perform russian music abroad — go fuck yourself! I will not know them anymore and there is no excuse for them.

Ukrainians who were abroad before the full-scale invasion or left during the full-scale invasion, building a career there, performing all kinds of music, except russian, and in many, in the vast majority of cases, I know that they are there, being in this market, where the music system functions well, they also try to promote the performance of Ukrainian music. Such people are very well done! Even if they do not have such a large audience, authority to influence the performance of Ukrainian music there, then with their work, the achievement of a high professional level, they will become for us simply those people who will teach our next generations, who will be examples to the next one generation in professionalism.

There is another problem — these are the same Western European musicians who are used to performing the russian repertoire simply because it was there, it was planted and russia invested a lot of money in its popularization. Now they do not understand at all why they have to give it up. What arguments would you give to your colleague, a conductor from a Western European country? Why should he refuse to perform, for example, “Romeo and Juliet ” by Tchaikovsky?

Speaking in the same way with journalists from France, we explained and they absolutely agreed with us regarding the implementation of everything Russian, which is politicized, and everything in them is politicized. Writers, composers, artists, directors and so on. All artists, politics affects everyone, because the whole country attacked us. The whole country attacked us. And everything it had: all its history, all its artists, all the work they did — all this is perceived as the fruit of their work.

There is still such a moment that they want to impose their culture on us by war with us, but they don’t care about ours. And explaining to the French how we feel about it, I asked, why are you talking about russian music at all? Let’s talk about Ukrainian. This is the best method. In general, so that there were no questions about the performance of russian music. There should be a question of performing Ukrainian music. We are not concerned about russian music. It is not a subject for discussion at all. The subject for discussion is whether we perform this work of the Ukrainian composer or not? Because we have many others. We will show you now, we have simply colossal assets that we have to represent.

Therefore, the priority should be the performance of Ukrainian music, not the cancellation of russian music.

Finally, let’s dream a little. I will no longer ask you when you will return to the conductorship. Because you already answered that it will happen only after victory. But let’s imagine that we have achieved victory, and you could conduct some program. What would it be? What works would it consist of?

Most likely, it will be something new.

This moment, it happens, even dreams. When we win. The 45th day of euphoria is passing. And I am torn by the fact that I have not listened to Ukrainian music for a long time. And some coincidence, which during my life, simply saturates me. This coincidence of circumstances, when a composer appeals to you, a group appeals to you, a theater appeals to you. They just offer you to do something. I think, most likely, it will be something new.

Which of the composers? We have a lot there. I simply adore Alla Zagaykevych. I just get high from her music. It could be some kind of project with Zhadan. It could be Ivan Nebesnyi. I can only imagine.

Here is such a galaxy of those actors who purposefully all their lives simply create, create, create Ukrainian not because it is so necessary, but because they are Ukrainians and they make absolutely cool music.

Although, look, I’m currently in rehab and, in principle, I don’t know how I’ll react when I’m invited somewhere to conduct something together. (laughs) This could be a one-time event. After the war, I returned to full-time activity, and now I directly thought: “Oh, not bad, maybe something somewhere…”.

I think it’s a great ending. Thank you.

Maybe we’ll sketch something else, but later. Let’s go smoke.

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