“Vlad is a very emotional person,” Nikita, who is now thirty, said. Vlad introduced him to bands such as Nirvana and Slipknot. When they listened to System of a Down, he remembered that Vlad “could not stand or sit still.” He would shake his head and sing along as best he could. The pair replayed “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 away from us. We did not understand the words, but we loved 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, Nikita persuaded his mom to buy him a guitar, and he taught himself how to play and build the instrument by watching YouTube tutorials.
He was happy with his MP3s and bootleg CDs. But he dreamed of building a proper collection. A couple years ago, he saved up and bought himself a turntable and the first LP by 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 colorful lights, garlands, candles, glittery ribbons, and Lisa’s photos. Their home was filled with music—not metal, which Lisa, a graphic designer, hates, but more soothing music by Sade and Sting. Earlier this year, Nikita began renting a small workshop nearby, where he built guitar cables and balance boards. He had hopes of becoming an accomplished woodworker and constructing his own guitars. And then, one morning in late February, he woke to the sound of explosions.
I began e-mailing with Nikita—who goes by Nick—in June after meeting him through eBay. One of the many things I collect is bootleg cassettes with alternate, often amateurish, artwork, and for a few years I’ve had a series of saved searches on the online marketplace for unofficial Nirvana tapes from various countries in Eastern Europe. I noticed a listing for an LP that read “Nirvana ‘The Best’ LP survived after 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 home and contribute to the war effort. At first, my curiosity involved the logistics of fulfilling eBay orders during wartime, my sympathy for a collector letting go of his prized possessions. We got to talking about our common love of music, and the way certain songs made us feel. Our conversations opened into other vectors of experience and, in his case, dreaming.