The Women Moving Ukraine’s Underground, Part 2: Thinking About the Future

In the second instalment of New Voices Ukraine, tQ's new collaboration with 20ft Radio, Neformat, the British Council and Ukrainian Institute, Yaryna Denysyuk of Neformat continues her investigation into the role of women in the country's wartime music scene, and seeks out the figures who will shape the future


Women in the Ukrainian music underground face daily battles to earn respect and fair representation. Even when there is a war raging in our land. In the first part of this series, we looked at some women who have both the experience, and a position in the music industry to change things. In this concluding article, we look to those who could shape the future. 

“Think about your country”

The first is frontwoman of metal band 0%MercuryLena Elfi, the subject of a series of misogynistic comments we mentioned in the first article around her performance at Wacken Open Air Metal Battle 2023. To combat or dismiss misogyny with a form of patriotism may not be everyone’s first instinct. But these are difficult times and anything that can be used to help, should be. Despite being “a very emotionally sensitive, anxious person,” Elfi was guided only by the desire to represent Ukraine “in a worthy manner” at the W.O.A. Metal Battle. “There was no time for fear and anxiety at that moment.”

Elfi admits that she doesn’t pay attention to misogynistic comments anymore. “It’s just a waste of time. I was much more upset by comments in the style of ‘Uncle Putin, you forgot to kill these Ukrainians.’ It seems to me that these are the type of people who are only happy when they humiliate others. This is the only happiness in their lives. It is sad.”

0%Mercury was founded in 2016 and are one of the brightest and most promising bands in the rapidly developing Ukrainian commercial metal scene. They have a small but strong history of releases, with two EPs, a number of singles and videos and, finally, their 2023 debut album, We Should Definitely Do This!. The music verges on mathcore, modern metalcore and hardcore with fast, extreme tracks, as well as a few slow melodic pieces. Elfi, like IGNEA frontwoman Helle Bogdanova, is the only woman in her band, so this success also depends on her fellow male musicians. She sees a need to have representatives of the Ukrainian scene abroad, “because the bands that represent Ukraine on the international stage can be counted on one hand.” Even though Elfi can go abroad and travel freely in Ukraine, the problems of her bandmates directly affect her. “I worry about my boys, but I also have to look for opportunities to play abroad, so there are not really many advantages [in this situation].”

Crisis Management

Death Pill are a talented and hard-working all-female Ukrainian act. After the war started the members separated: Anastasiya Khomenko and her son moved to Barcelona, Nataliya Seryakova found herself working in Australia and Mariana stayed in Kyiv. “When the war began, I didn’t want to leave Kyiv,” Khomenko told Sky News. “But I know that I must because I have a child and I want him to be safe and have a better life. Every time I think about children in Ukraine, it’s very painful for me. They’re [having to go] down in the shelters… I didn’t want to emigrate. I love my country very badly.”

But it’s also a truism to say that a crisis brings new opportunities. For Death Pill the year 2022 was also when they signed to the London based label New Heavy Sounds. From the very beginning of their band, they had wanted to be true rock stars. New Heavy Sounds really pushed Death Pill with a debut album, interviews in major media outlets, and even their first European and UK tour in May and June of 2023. More importantly, Death Pill actively uses this new attention to spread the word about the war in Ukraine and gather money – aka real help – for our soldiers. 

Local Heroics

Seira is a great example of a local artist who didn’t show any great intention in moving her music abroad. Rather, she is concerned about developing the local underground scene around her. Seira is from Lviv. This is a fairly large Ukrainian city with a rich cultural life and a few famous bands, but its scene operates on a smaller scale, which changes the rhythm of artists working there.

Seira’s band, Pušča, was the project that brought her to the attention of the Ukrainian underground scene. Starting in 2019, this post-black metal band initially burned very brightly, but at the peak of their fame they stopped all activity, with no explanation why. Their growing fame, I suppose, was not a part of their DIY worldview. As the frontwoman in an all-male line up, it is fair to say Seira enriched the band’s work with her spectacular costumes and expressive live performances. She also worked with KADRA, a brilliant Ukrainian photographer: both women share the same theatrical outlook. Truly, Seira is more an artist than a musician, a rare case for a woman in the underground metal scene. In contrast to the tough and hard working vibe put forward by her peers, Seira feels fragile and even mystical, and holds her thoughts and motives to herself. Yet she is amazingly expressive in her live performances. And her music speaks of her personality.

The Pušča split didn’t stop Seira from exploring her creativity in other areas. Lviv-based concert agency Antenna was founded by Pušča members, though after the silent break-up it was left to Seira to continue organising concerts, bringing some of the best underground acts to her city. Seira still performs in different experimental music acts such as noisy spoken word project полин. She also plays the cello these days, which again demonstrates her artistic nature. Lately she was asked to temporarily stand in for the frontman of death metal band Обрій (Obrij) on their spring 2024 live shows; the original vocalist Mykola is now serving in the army. The news of this collaboration led to a true furore, as both Obrij and Seira are highly respected in the underground community. 

The Antenna project will serve as both an archive and an encyclopaedia for Ukrainian niche music and all the cultural processes around it. It should launch in the near future. 

How to get more women into the scene? 

For women to gain success in the music industry here, many factors are important: hard work and support from fellow musicians and fans is vital. Luck and personal factors are also really important in a country dealing with the day-to-day uncertainties of an invasion, as well as a strong will and self-belief, artistic talent, experience and knowledge… It’s a long list! 

Seira shares her observations about some positive changes in the gender balance in Ukrainian music since 2022. While a certain number of female artists and musicians left Ukraine, she emphasises that “more women and girls have begun to attend events and concerts, there is more support, and I have also noticed in the last two years that many girls are attending various music courses; especially for drums or guitar. And it is quite unexpected for me that women journalists and event managers appear, and keep afloat!”


Alyona Dmukhovska from Music Export Ukraine wants to provide women with more resources for them to grow as professionals. “Everything starts with education, mentoring and mutual support. We really encourage Ukrainian women to keep an eye on MEU’s opportunities, which we publish in our social media and apply for our projects. We have and will always have a special focus on female participants.”  Dmukhovska also gets inspired by international projects like Keychange or SheSaidSo, “made by women for women.” Dmukhovska: “We actually can change the whole industry, we just need to unite. There is no better time than now.”

And finally, back to Lena Elfi. “It is necessary to support starting musicians, share experiences, and invite them to collaborate. Because being a musician is not about comfort when it comes to live touring. You always have to carry something heavy, or sleep when you can and it is not always possible to wash things or even take a shower. Dressing rooms – if they exist at all – in most cases are not adapted so that girls can comfortably change clothes there or be alone.” Such conditions can demotivate, but Elfi believes “all cool things start with unity and mutual support.” That’s what the women in Ukrainian music need the most.

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