This musician helps homesick Ukrainians feel a little more at home in Poland


Roman Panchenko, from Chernihiv, performs in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.
Adam Lach for NPR

Roman Panchenko, from Chernihiv, performs in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.

Castle Square, the main plaza in Warsaw's historic Royal Square, is a scenic hotspot full of tourists taking selfies, children on school trips, and locals grabbing food at fancy restaurants.

It's also where you might find street musician Roman Panchenko strumming his guitar while singing in his native Ukrainian.

It's an act that has become a form of protest and source of solidarity since the Russian invasion. It has also created a sense of belonging for homesick Ukrainians in the crowd.

"They are feeling uncomfortable in this country because they think there's few Ukrainians," says Panchenko, who is from Chernihiv. "But there's a lot of Ukrainians in this country and we are standing altogether."

His confidence is as new as the war in his home country.

"I was afraid of singing in the street," he says.

The war helped him overcome that fear. Now, he regularly sings the national anthem in Warsaw's old city.

"Because I think it was the best way I can help my country," he says. "To promote some songs of Ukraine."

On his feet are mismatched socks — one yellow, one blue: The colors of the Ukrainian flag.

More than three million Ukrainians have moved to Poland in less than three months. And he can spot them in the crowd.

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"Every time we come here, someone came up to us and just ask to play some more Ukrainian songs."

And every time Panchenko sees a fellow Ukrainian in the audience, he ends his song the same way.

"Slava Ukraina!" he yells. In Ukrainian, the crowd yells back "gierojom slava!" — glory to heroes.

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