At 5am on 24 February 2022, Eugene Abdukhanov was in his car as the first bombs hit Ukraine.
Nearly six months on, the things he saw as he drove for his life are sights he will never forget.
“All of a sudden, these explosions started to happen right round me,” he tells Sky News. “Everything started to blow up around me, I was lucky just to get out of there. Just pure fortune. I don’t know how, but I managed to drive out.”
Abdukhanov is the bassist with metal band Jinjer. For the first month or so after the bombs hit, he says he could not consider even picking up his guitar. But the band, who have a huge fanbase, were given permission by the country’s ministry of culture to perform as ambassadors, to continue to raise awareness and help raise funds for the people of Ukraine.
Through fundraising including the sale of merchandise emblazoned with the slogan “We Want Our Home Back”, in the Ukrainian yellow and blue, they have raised more than $130,000 (£107,500).
Because, following the initial swell of help as the world reacted in horror to what was happening there, inevitably as the war continues, most people cannot sustain the initial high levels of support.
Abdukhanov says he understands this.
“We must stay realistic,” he says. “You cannot keep the same level of support all the time. People worldwide, no matter how supportive they were at the beginning… they just cannot maintain. I do not blame them for this.
“I appreciate every single person who donated, contributed to the support of Ukraine, contributed to our struggle against Russia. And that’s already enough. The only thing I’m asking people worldwide is just not to turn their back on us.
“Everyone has their own families, everyone has kids to look after. I’m not asking people to be too heroic, but please just do not turn your backs on us. Do not forget that people are dying.
“Keep in mind that not far away from you, just the same continent of Europe, there is a war, a real war – not just a conflict, but a war, raging.”
After playing shows supporting Slipknot, the band have festivals planned, including Bloodstock in the UK.
If you haven’t heard Jinjer, the sound of lead singer Tatiana Shmayluk’s vocals is something you’re not likely to forget in a hurry; she has an ability to flit from pure and melodic to a guttural growl.
“We are not that band who will find a comfort zone musically and stay in this,” says Abdukhanov. “That’s not about us. We will always try to find something new and some new direction and follow it.”
In their latest shows, the sadness and anger of recent events in Ukraine has come out in their performances.
“We managed to accumulate so much negative emotions, we just express them in our own way on stage, and it’s just double intensity. This is what people can expect.”
As they have traveled around Europe, Jinjer have shared their journey and fundraising efforts selling merchandise on social media.
In April, they shared a video of a young woman called Olga, whose mother Natalia was heavily injured in the bombing of Mariupol’s theatre. Thousands of euros in donations was sent to help her through surgery and recovery. Their fundraising efforts have also helped a nursing home and a children’s music school, among others.
“This is the least we can do now,” Abdukhanov says. “You know, being sometimes really tired of all the grief and all the sorrow happening to my people and to my country, I still try to hold up and keep on carrying the flag, let’s say, even though sometimes I’m feeling really overwhelmed with all of the bad news coming from home.”
While Abdukhanov’s family are no longer in Ukraine, he has friends who have remained. Just a few days ago, he received the awful news that a friend had died.
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“He was fighting in the army right at the front, and he died as a hero. When such things happen and they keep happening, it’s very hard to bear this. It’s very hard to, first of all, accept this. You refuse to realize this, you cannot believe that this is really happening.
“Then with acceptance comes pain and grief. So it is extremely difficult to be far away but at the same time, I cannot lie, I am happy to be out of Ukraine and do my job… I’m happy that me and my family is not under threat.
“But at the same time, it’s really hard to be far away from this, because a lot of close people to me are still there. It doesn’t matter if they are fighting in the front or they are just living as civilians in Kyiv . They’re still under under big threat and it tears me apart.”
Jinjer are performing at the Bloodstock festival alongside acts including Behemoth, Lamb Of God, Mercyful Fate and more. The festival takes place at Catton Park, Derbyshire, from 11-14 August