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 streets. But now, after the war started, he sings Ukrainian songs in a Warsaw square to help his country.


In Poland, the old town of Warsaw is a picturesque place full of tourists taking selfies, which is why it is also a favorite place for street musicians. In the main square, called Castle Square, a man in his 20s stands with a friend in front of an imposing obelisk. He plays and sings, his long hair tucked under a brown leather baseball cap. On his feet are mismatched socks, one yellow, one blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

ROMAN PANCHENKO: I am from the Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Roman Panchenko grew up in the city of Chernihiv and moved to Poland a few years ago, but only started busking after Russia invaded his home country.

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 it was the best way I can help my country, to promote some Ukrainian songs.

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

PANCHENKO: They feel somewhat uncomfortable in this country because they think that there are some Ukrainians, but there are many Ukrainians in this country. And we’re all standing together. As you can see, the woman comes up to me and asks if we can play the anthem of Ukraine, the anthem of Ukraine. I say yes.

SHAPIRO: How often does that happen?

PANCHENKO: Actually, every time we come here, every time someone comes up to us and asks us to play a little bit more of the Ukraine.


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

(Song in Ukrainian).

(Speaking Ukrainian).

(Song in Ukrainian).

We are only human when we love a lot.

(Song in Ukrainian).

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

(Song 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 the Ukraine – glory to the Ukraine.

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

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

PANCHENKO: (Singing in Ukrainian).

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