“Vlad is a very emotional person,” said Nikita, now in her thirties. Vlad introduced him to bands like Nirvana and Slipknot. When they heard System of a Down, he remembered that Vlad “couldn’t sit or sit still.” He would shake his head and sing as well as he could. The pair once again played “Chop Suey!” for hours, even though they could barely make out Serj Tankian’s lyrics. “I experienced these feelings inside,” Nikita said.
Back then, he noted, “American music was something far from us. We didn’t understand the words, but we love her madly.” All that mattered was finding new music, and Nikita, Vlad, and their metal-loving friends traded CDs and cassettes. When he was fifteen years old, Nikita persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar, and he taught himself how to play and build the instrument by watching tutorials on YouTube.
He was happy with his MP3s and bootleg CDs. But he dreamed of building a proper collection. A few years ago, he saved up and bought himself a turntable and the first LP from the Russian rock band Aquarium. Over the following years, he would document his growing record collection and the life he shared with his girlfriend, Lisa, on his Instagram account. The couple decorated their apartment in Kharkiv with strings of colored lights, garlands, candles, glittery ribbons, and photos of Lisa. Their home was filled with music—not metal, which Lisa, a graphic designer, hates, but more soothing music from Sade and Sting. Earlier this year, Nikita started renting a small workshop nearby, where he built guitar cables and balance boards. He had hoped to become an accomplished woodworker and build his own guitars. And then, one morning towards the end of February, he woke up to the sound of explosions.
I started e-mailing Nikita—who goes by Nick—in June after meeting him through eBay. One of the many things I collect is bootleg cassettes with alternative artwork, often amateur, and for a few years I had a series of searches saved on the online market for unofficial Nirvana tapes from various countries in Eastern Europe. I noticed a listing for an LP that said “Nirvana ‘The Best’ LP survived AIRSTRIKE from Kharkiv, UKRAINE. For help.” There were pictures of the LP, as well as Nikita’s bombed out apartment. In the item description, he explained that he was selling some of his LPs, guitar pedals, and cables for money to rebuild his house and contribute to the war effort. At first, my curiosity involved the logistics of fulfilling eBay orders in wartime, my sympathy for a collector leaving his prized possessions. We got to talking about our shared love of music, and the way certain songs made us feel. Our conversations opened to other vectors of experience and, in his case, dreams.
These days, Nikita, Lisa, and their pets are living in Kyiv, where, he said, “the war feels much closer.” He dreams of working in a guitar factory in the United States, and of helping rebuild Kharkiv, where his mother and grandfather still live. eBay auctions offered a productive distraction. When we started writing to each other, no one had yet bid on his LPs, but there were a few buyers interested in his gear. He described the decision to sell his things as difficult but necessary: at least his records and gear can now have a second life in someone else’s home. “The pedal sounds amazing. Black Sabbath sound,” reads the description of an old Pig Hoof fuzz pedal. “You will hear the sound of fighting from your guitar. . . . He did not clean up the traces of dust after the bombing. Let this be your memory. It is up to you to decide whether to clean it or leave it as it is.” ♦