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


In Poland, Warsaw's old city is a scenic hotspot full of tourists taking selfies, and so it's also a favorite spot for street musicians. In the main plaza, called Castle Square, a man in his 20s stands with a friend in front of a towering obelisk. He strums 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'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 busking after Russia invaded his home country.

PANCHENKO: I was afraid of singing 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 that I can help my country, to promote some songs from Ukraine.

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

PANCHENKO: They are feeling some uncomfortable in this country because they think that there is a few of Ukrainians, but there is a lot of Ukrainians in this country. And we are standing all together. As you see, the woman come to me and just ask if we can play the hymn of Ukraine, anthem of Ukraine. I say yes.

SHAPIRO: How often does that happen?

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


I will play a song. It names "Lyudey," (ph) "Humans," from the band BoomBox. I will sing it for you and for other people because it's about (speaking Ukrainian).

(Singing in Ukrainian).

(Speaking Ukrainian).

(Singing in Ukrainian).

We are only human when we love a lot.

(Singing in Ukrainian).

Some songs - when I sing, I can't feel it. But this song I can literally feel 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: Slava Ukraini.

SHAPIRO: Slava Ukraini - glory to Ukraine.

We'll be reporting from Poland all next week with stories on how the Ukrainian refugee crisis is rippling out across society - Monday, how schools are integrating some of the war's youngest refugees.

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

PANCHENKO: (Singing in Ukrainian). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.