Like so many Ukrainians, February 24, 2022 was the day Nikita Zhemerenko’s life was shaken to the core by Russia’s brutal invasion of his country.
Once a resident of the eastern city of Kharkiv, Zhemerenko is an avid music fan and instrument builder, with a sprawling collection of guitar gear and vinyl records, and even his own line of pedalboards.
But when Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the life Zhemerenko and his girlfriend had created in Kharkiv was torn apart.
“On the morning of February 24, we were awakened by loud explosions that sounded non-stop,” he recalls. “We took [our pets], one backpack with essential things and left our apartment in the center of Kharkiv.”
For the next week, the pair stayed at Zhemerenko’s parents’ house, sleeping on mattresses in the entrance corridor.
“Those were the scariest and loudest days of my life,” he says. “The city was shelled around the clock. Several times rockets hit the places where we were a few minutes later. Panic broke out in the city.
“Many people abandoned their houses and belongings and moved away. Huge queues, empty shops and frightened faces of people surrounded us. At this time, the historical center of Kharkiv was destroyed.”
In early March, Zhemerenko decided to journey back to his apartment for food, clothes and other provisions, but a Russian rocket strike in a square nearby hampered his plans. He and his partner moved to the outskirts of the city for safety, but in the evening of March 2, neighbors sent him a video of his apartment block on fire, explaining that two missiles had hit the building.
“I cannot accurately describe my feelings, I only remember the huge emptiness inside,” Zhemerenko remembers. “I watched the video over and over again. I imagined how our photos, records and all these little things that made up our house were burning.”
Heartbroken and dejected, the pair urgently left Kharkiv, and caught a bus headed to relative safety in the western city of Lviv. They stayed there for some time – Zhemerenko recalls the “huge contrast between war and peaceful life in one country” – but before long, he was “haunted” by “intense homesickness”.
“All the time I had a strong desire to go back and get into my apartment,” he explains. “Once my girlfriend’s father decided to go to our house, but could not enter. In many apartments, doors flew out and the entrance was very littered. After a while, he managed to get inside. He sent some photos and we saw our house for the first time after bombing on FaceTime. It was a terrible sight, but after that I decided to return to Kharkiv for a while.”
After a failed attempt to return home – owing to train problems caused by Russian bombing – Zhemerenko returned to Kharkiv, and two days later headed to his old apartment block to survey the damage.
He recollects: “As soon as I opened the door to the apartment, I felt the eerie damp [passing] through [my] whole body. Inside, everything was completely wet and destroyed. The first thing I did was start collecting scattered sodden photos. Time seemed to stop. The glass crunched underfoot. I looked at the things that made up the soul of our house. They were broken into small pieces and visible on the floor amid dirt and glass. It was dangerous to be there.
“We had to quickly collect the essentials and leave. And I went from room to room and couldn’t recover. I was confused but friends helped me get together. I picked up things dear to my heart, but many of the necessary things remained there.”
While the damage to his apartment and many of his belongings was widespread and severe, several items of musical paraphernalia remained intact, including several guitar pedals and some vinyl records.
And now, Zhemerenko is auctioning these items – many still stained with debris from shelling – on eBay to raise money to begin rebuilding his life.
“At the moment I’ve lost all my ways of earning because my workshop was also destroyed by rockets and all my tools were lost,” he explains. “I decided to auction all the important things that I [managed to save] from my house. Each of these things is a part of me. These things survived the airstrikes and miraculously remained intact.
“These things filled my house with music for a long time. I want them to bring joy to new owners around the world. They will remind you that not everything can be destroyed by war. I did not specifically clean the traces of dust and dirt, so that the new [owners] can decide for [themselves] in what form [they] want to see them. Perhaps someone will play through these pedals or will store them as a memory of these events and of me.”
Items Zhemerenko saved that are up for auction include a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive pedal, Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal and a Marshall MS-4 micro stack practice amp, and a host of vinyl records including Johnny Cash’s Get Rhythm, Elton John’s Sleeping with the Past and Rammstein’s Deutschland. Take a look at Zhemerenko’s full auction over at eBay.
Additionally, 10 percent of each sale will go towards the Leleka Foundation, a US-based charity that raises funds and implements various medical & social projects to assist individuals wounded and displaced as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
You can read more about Nikita Zhemerenko’s incredible story on his blog.