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Young musical duo in Ukraine knew the risks of missiles but performed anyway

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Air raid sirens go off every day in Ukraine - sometimes several times a day - to warn that Russian forces have fired missiles and drones at cities and neighborhoods all around the country. Like most Ukrainians, a young musical duo knew that these missiles could someday hit them, but they kept on singing. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has their story from southeastern Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Svitlana Semeykina (ph) and Kristina Spitsyna (ph) started performing together last year as a duo called Similar Girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Twenty-one-year-old Kristina sang lead vocals. Eighteen-year-old Svitlana - her friends called her Sveta - played guitar and sang backup. They loved performing Ukrainian rock songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: They went busking around Ukraine and uploaded videos of their performances to Instagram and TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

SVITLANA SEMEYKINA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KRISTINA SPITSYNA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: In this video, they're talking about their adventures in the central city of Dnipro. "We're having so much fun because we came here with our support team - our friends," Sveta says in the video.

"And our poor boyfriends," Kristina adds, "who carried all our equipment"

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Similar Girls often performed in Zaporizhzhia, a city that's near their hometown of Matviivka. In this video, they're in one of the city's lush parks. They're singing about fallen soldiers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Their friends and family said their earnings went to the Ukrainian military. Kristina's father is in the National Guard. On August 9, the duo had an evening gig in Zaporizhzhia, even though Russian missiles have been hitting the city lately. It's not far from the front line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: They set up in a busy neighborhood near a church and a playground and played for a couple of hours. They wrapped up with a song called "We Will Win This War." They dedicated it to Kherson, another Ukrainian city under constant Russian shelling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPITSYNA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "Thank you for existing," Kristina says, "and thanks to those defending Ukraine."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMILAR GIRLS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Sveta's boyfriend, Mykyta Tunyk, remembers the duo singing their hearts out that night. After the show, they went for a walk. Mykyta stayed behind to watch their equipment. And sometime later, he heard an explosion. Rescue workers prevented him from going anywhere near it. Sveta did not answer her phone.

MYKYTA TUNYK: (Through interpreter) We called Kristina, and she managed to pick up her phone for six seconds, but she could not say anything. Kristina's mother ran right into the middle of the scene. She was told to wait in the ambulance. Then, she called me and said that the girls were found under the rubble.

KAKISSIS: Police said Sveta died instantly and Kristina a short while later.

The Similar Girls were buried side by side in their hometown, Matviivka. Their devoted friends shivered with grief in the summer rain as mourners threw fistfuls of earth over the coffins.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "I couldn't believe it until the very end," one friend sobbed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Another wondered maybe she could have saved them. Maybe she could have taken them somewhere else after the show. No, the other said. It could have been any of us.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Matviivka, Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.