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Jinjer's Tatiana Shmailyuk: "Ukrainian culture is rising up again"

Tatiana Shmailyuk of Jinjer
(Image credit: Tatiana Shmailyuk)

Over the last eight years, Jinjer have flourished into one of metal’s most exciting bands, with Tatiana Shmayluk’s brutal vocals carrying their message of resistance and determination. 

With their home country Ukraine under siege from Russian forces, those words are more vital than ever – and with help from the Ukrainian Ministry Of Culture, the band were given permission to tour as ambassadors for the country to raise funds and awareness. As Tatiana looks back over her life, she explains why she and her bandmates will never stop fighting.

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BEING A UKRAINIAN METAL FAN HAD ITS CHALLENGES WHEN I WAS GROWING UP

 “Metal wasn’t accessible for me. Where I grew up in Donetsk, not many worldwide metal artists would come. They’d go to the capital, and it was 700km and 12 hours on the train. I didn’t have money because I was a teenager and my mom was strict; she didn’t give me much pocket money, although that stimulated me to earn it myself, for which I’m really grateful to her. My parents wouldn’t have let me out of the town, but that was for the best too. It made me want to play my own music and form my own band.” 

MY BROTHER GOT ME INTO METAL 

“I listened to a lot of rock music and then grunge, punk. Then the music got heavier and heavier, and I started developing as a musician on my own. Now my brother doesn’t listen to any kind of heavy music. It’s been years. He stopped listening to heavy music when he grew up. That’s the problem in Ukraine, people stop listening to heavy music once they have a job, a family, they get married.” 

SUCCESS HAPPENED FOR US SLOWLY… 

“It wasn’t easy or fast at all. It’s already been more than 10 years. It took me five years to even cross the Ukrainian border to play in Romania for an audience who had no idea who we were. Five years! To get to other European countries and the US, it’s taken even longer. It took a few years to be noticed by a label and then we grew from 2015 or 2016.” 

…BUT I’M PLEASED IT HAPPENED THAT WAY 

“I’m glad, we grew bigger naturally. No crazy promotion, no nothing. We earned it with fucking blood and sweat. That’s why I truly can call it success, not just a moment of fame." 

TO MAKE IT WE HAD TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX 

“I cannot name any Ukrainian metal bands that were famous around the world before us. Can you? Most Ukrainian bands stick to playing in Ukraine or Russia. They don’t usually sing in English, so they just play in their motherlands. I was always inspired by western music culture in jazz, blues and then metal. I always had this love for English speaking music, even pop music; Britney Spears is one of my biggest idols! People can understand it easily and for me, it was always about spreading my own message through a language that is more available for people all around the world of different countries. That’s why we chose to sing in English and that’s how we made our own path.” 

THOSE YOUTUBE REACTION VIDEOS HAVE MADE ME REALISE I’M A GATEWAY ARTIST 

“It’s a surprise to me that people still are impressed that women can scream. When I was an 18-year-old girl with no internet, I knew there was a band called Holy Moses [German thrash metallers] with a female on the vocals who did crazy stuff. Maybe we impress the younger generation, but the older generation already knew. Sometimes I’m annoyed, but then you say, ‘OK, well, I didn’t see a hummingbird until I was 35 years old.’ It’s always a right time to discover new stuff. It’s great that screaming women are a phenomenon.”



DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF 

“I was vegan for three years and then, in the middle of a tour, I started eating meat again because I was starving and there was nothing that could feed me. I don’t punish myself, maybe I’ll give it another try, but I try to be moderate in consuming meat. I still don’t drink milk. To tell you the truth, the smell of roasted meat made me truly crazy like a lion, I just couldn’t resist. And that’s the problem, I have I have this inner conflict. My instinct tells me, ‘Eat it, eat it’, but my awareness says, ‘Hey come on.’ Sometimes I fish and I feel bad, which isn’t healthy, I’m trying to be softer to myself. At least I’m trying.” 

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME 

“Ukrainian culture is rising up again due to this horrible war. A lot of people who speak Russian, for example, have started to learn Ukrainian. I am married to a Mexican man, and I’ve found a lot of similarities in our cultures. Big families, a lot of great food, the Ukrainian kitchen is a thing, and music. Women singing at the table. It looks a lot like Mexico in terms of traditions. We respect nature, we love flowers and poetry. I cannot express it in two words or in 30 minutes. You have to be there and spend maybe years to fully understand Ukrainian culture.” 

LIVING IN AMERICA SUITS ME 

“I love California. I’ve always wanted to live there because of all my favourite movies. Since December last year, I came back to Los Angeles after our US tour and have been living there since. I like the weather. I like palm trees. I like nature. I love oceans and seas. Living in California is a beautiful thing. From where we live now, two hours’ drive and we are in the mountains; we can ski, we can play snowballs. Then you go back to LA and there’s the ocean. They have everything that I love.”

BUT I MISS MY HOME IN KYIV 

“I had thought that, once I have my Green Card I could go back to Ukraine with my husband and we could travel back and forth between Kyiv and LA. Then the war started. Honestly, I cry sometimes when no one sees. I miss my home in Kyiv. I was living there for five years. I really miss my hometown, Donetsk, where my childhood was and I really want to go back and see my kindergarten, my parents, my toys are still there. It’s really heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how life turned.” 

BEING SEPARATED FROM MY FAMILY IS ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS I’VE EXPERIENCED

 “It’s been three years since I saw my parents in person. We communicate through cameras with a virtual connection. I have a brother who lives in Russia, and I haven’t seen him in more than five years. But there are more horrible things in life. The war is the most horrible thing, more than people being separated.” 

SOMETIMES NOT EVEN MUSIC CAN HEAL THE VOID

“You know what, I’m losing my faith in music. I don’t feel like I can express myself enough to say what I really feel because there are no words to explain. So, I feel like I should give up… but then something makes me go further.” 

I DON’T KNOW WHEN JINJER WILL BE ABLE TO PLAY UKRAINE AGAIN 

“I don’t think it’s possible in the near future. It’s hard to say, it’s absolutely blurry so I cannot even think about that, but then we also have bigger problems.” 

IT IS A GREAT HONOUR TO REPRESENT MY COUNTRY 

“We are very thankful to our Ministry Of Culture for the Ukraine who gave us this opportunity to do what we love to do, and play all the festivals we have announced. We’re using every festival to raise funds and spread awareness about the real war that is happening in the 21st century, which is crazy. It’s hard to believe, but this is the harsh reality. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time we are also full of hope that soon it is all going be over. We are spreading positivity and hope, and we are dreaming about peace. I hope that no other European or world country ever experiences the same as the Ukraine.” 

NO FAME CAN BUY HAPPINESS 

“I want my band to be one of the biggest bands in the world, but happiness is the priority. They say you cannot find happiness anywhere because happiness lives inside you, but I’m learning to appreciate my life. That’s my biggest ambition, to be happy and find inner peace, and for there to be justice for Ukraine.” 

Jinjer are due to tour the UK in March 2023 with Bullet For My Valentine and Atreyu

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.