“You Forgot, Brother …”

The song is by Vitaliy Ashenov, an acclaimed Russian singer. I was inspired to write a blog post about it. The words don’t make sense. The narrator mentions that both his brother were born in Ukraine. Is the now-Russian brother blaming his Ukrainian brother? Russian patriotic sentiment is reflected in the references to World War II. The audience will quickly learn that the singer is Russian. It is not a commitment song. It is possible that it was deliberately noncommittal.

It is it pro-Ukrainian in secret, but disguised as pro-Russia to avoid punishment from the Russian authorities. It could be something else. The one thing that does seem clear is that it’s not pro-war (or, as Putin would put it, “pro-special-operation”), which seems to make it at least somewhat opposed to the official Russian position.

I still found the song interesting and wanted to share it with you. The song seems to have gotten a good deal of play in Russia—at least 300K views for its various YouTube versions.

Even with its uncertainty, I found the story to be emotionally very affecting. The situation seems quite clear, and Russia clearly is wrong. There are moral reasons that fratricide doesn’t make sense. Invading another country, killing civilians and defenders is bad no matter what country it is. Human nature being what is it, fratricidal conflict seem particularly tragic. This song seems to capture that perfectly.

You will also find some connections, deliberate or not to songs and poems that are related to Russia-Ukraine conflict: For instance to “Together We Christened Our Children”, which refers to past christenings of one another’s children, and now irretrievable breaking of those bonds, and to the 2014 Hymn for the Defense of Ukraine, an apparently hugely popular song. [text]”We are against brothers fighting their brothers.”

Finally, it seems to me in many ways a man’s song—a brother singing to a brother, with the most prominent sound being a deep man’s voice, framing the entire moral and emotional message around the two men’s relationship—from a singer who had indeed been described in the past as having an interest in manliness. I was reminded of Sergey Babkin’s revised version of “I’m a Soldier”, where the narrator sings about being “nourished by manly strength in my native land beneath my feet”. This feature, regardless of whether or not you prefer it (and for less man-focused approaches, please see Bella Ciao/Ukrainian Fury (Furies),), struck me again as something to note.

I took some liberties in the translation. In particular, I omitted some names/place names that seemed to me more distracting from the English text than it added. For the original text click the “Show More” button under this YouTube description or the subtitles.

Our brother Kolya, and I stand on the field being buffeted daily by seven wind gusts.
Pointing machineguns at one another, and putting your fingers on the triggers
What whispered into your ear? How do you feed a viper from your bosom, who whispered[1]
Kolya, you have forgotten that I am your brother.

Do you remember how much we all read together?
We were in diapers together and snot together.
That Chernigov was there is something you have forgotten, brother.[2]
Our mother was our mother.

We stand together, brother Kolya, and me, at the Dnieper banks
You are on the left and I am on the right. Why?[3]
It is too bad, it will not work. Can you imagine understanding without the grenades
You are their side and I am on my side. That’s the way it is.

Have you forgotten how hard it was to be together?
How sad were you when I left.[4]
Kolya, it’s all over.[5]
I was born in the place you named my daughter.

My brother, and I are united with machineguns with anger upon our faces
Kolya, I am sorry but it was impossible for me to just leave.
It is mine, also, brother. Here my grandfather is buried and here is my mother
Know that I will not give it up to the enemy. Not a meter.[6]

You forgot, Brother, what we ploughed, and what we sowed.
We raced together on horseback near Volnovakha[7]
You and my brother?
Now, we are on opposing side?

You are a soldier brother. How could you forget everything?
Now you’d as soon hang me as take a drink of water ….
It happened, explain it to me.
Do you want to bring in the three-headed viper into your residence?[8]

Brother, you have forgotten about yourself.
It is important to remember Leningrad’s and Khatyn’s.[9]
Kolya, it’s been a while since you remembered about our grandfather.
Prokhorovka was able to crush the enemy Toads.[10]

Kolya, Kolya, and I lay on the ground, with our bodies torn apart.
Part of the field is Kolya and part is me
Dismantled tanks and a torn-out neck
I have a shovel for military use.

Are we still needed by the one who set fire to it?
Your whispered friend has since left.
However, the wind pierced and sang its own song.
Mother Ukraine!

This wound will remain open for a while.
However, we see the scar cannot be removed.
Two white doves can be seen in the blue sky brother.
Kolya’s souls are flying off, those are theirs.

You and my brother, what has happened?
Maybe God will forgive and forgive.
You and my brother, what has happened?
Maybe the Lord will forgive and absolve.

[1]The older, non-sexy meaning of the phrase “bosom”, which is an idiom both in Russian and English is evident.

[2]One city near the Russian-Ukraine border in Ukraine was besieged by Russians at the time this song is released.

[3]Although “right-bank Ukraine”, historically, has been used to describe a part of Ukraine’s Western section, which was more Ukrainian than “left-bank Ukraine”, but it is not clear if this author meant that or how most people will interpret it.

[4]This is literally a reference to moving to Belgorod. But I can’t find any other significance, besides perhaps it being close to the Russian/Ukrainian border.

[5]Grayvoron is the locality, however I was unable to identify any significant significance other than its location near the Russian-Ukrainian border.

[6]Literally it means “not a Piad”, which seems to be a reference to an old phrase: “We will not give up even a pin’,” which basically says that we won’t surrender any land. “Piad” literally means “old unit of measurement, approximately half a foot.

[7]An unnamed Ukrainian town, located near Donetsk was destroyed by the invasion.

[8]It is unclear to me that this phrase means anything evil. In Russian fairy tales, Zmei Gorynych has an evil three-headed serpent. The original refers to an evil three-headed serpent, however “serpent”, in the context seemed the best translation. This might refer to Ukraine’s national symbol, the trident. However, it seems highly unlikely. The tines of the troident aren’t labeled with heads and it is difficult to connect it to either a snake, worm, or the trident.

[9]Site of World War II slaughter by Nazis in Belarus. Not to be confused in with Katyn which was a much larger World War II massacre in Poland by Soviets.

[10]This is also the site of another important World War II battle that took place near Russia-Ukrainian borders.