Ukrainian Death Metaller Serge Streltsov: “I’m a Fan of All Cultures…I’m Just Against Anyone Who Praises Putin and War”
Last week, we posted about Ukrainian bands speaking out against Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of their homeland. One such band was Selfgod, a one-man death metal act from Serge Streltsov, who’s also played with Necrophagia. Almost immediately, we were contacted by someone who claimed that Serge supported fascist ideologies, and who included a photo of him in front of a Kolovrat solstice flag, which certain websites list as a symbol representing far-right neopaganism.
We removed Serge and Selfgod from the post, because frankly, we weren’t very familiar with him or his music, and wanted to know more before we featured either. Serge was disappointed by this, believing the accusations to be part of the Russian stereotype that all Ukrainians are fascists or Nazis. Over the next couple of days, we contacted Serge, and then interviewed him regarding his philosophical beliefs, and how he thinks Russia is trying to silence Ukrainian artists.
Here’s how our conversation went…
So let’s get this out of the way: do you or your band support or promote any political or philosophical organizations or belief systems that count racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, or any other form of bigotry among their core tenets?
Of course not. I mean, I’ve always been against that. I’ve always been trying to reach the world, not just European countries. I’m a big fan of all cultures, and fuck anybody that’s against that.
We were sent this image of you in front of a Kolovrat flag, which various websites associate with far-right neopagan hate groups. Is this you, and if it is, given your answer to our previous question, what does the Kolovrat represent to you?
I mean, I have used Kolovrat imagery for a little while. For me, it has nothing to do with politics or whatever political groups are trying to use that for their gain. The symbol’s over a thousand years old, and for me, it just represents the Slavic people, because the sign is just the representation of the sun. Of course, there are certain political groups who like to use pagan imagery to their gain, but I don’t condone any politics, I’m apolitical. This is probably the most political I’ve been, with defending Ukraine. That’s an ignorant statement from those websites. Sounds like they don’t even know what they’re talking about. I mean, the symbol’s ancient.
When it comes to the picture of me with it, I don’t exactly remember taking it – it could be real, I don’t know. As I said, I represent Slavic paganism and heritage. Not in the same light as some right-wing political parties do – I’m neither right-wing or extremist.
What is it about Slavic paganism that speaks to you, as an ancient culture whose traditions should be kept alive?
I mean, it’s my ancestors. Not everyone in my family is Christian, how it is usually in Europe right now. A lot of my family members were – it kind of got passed down to me, generation to generation. For me, it’s pride for my family. The difference between that, nowadays, it’s pride not hate. People use pride as hate sometimes, and some political parties try to use that as a tool to silence their opposition. Slavic heritage in Ukraine, for example — you can go to any gift shop in Ukraine, any museum or mainstream shop, and you can buy a Kolovrat necklace there. My Ukrainian passport is filled with Slavic pagan imagery. In Ukraine, it’s very open and celebrated, while in Russia they use that for political gain. This is fascist! We’re anti-fascist, we got rid of that! And now the Russian propaganda force is obviously using it — Ukraine, far-right nationalism, fascism, blah blah blah. They banned it at home so they can use it against the Ukraine.
‘Ukrainians are Nazis’ seems to be a recurring, recognized part of anti-Ukraine sentiment in Russia. Where does that come from? Have you dealt with that before?
Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten accusations for using the pagan imagery from ignorant parties who have not done the research and see anything European-pagan and connect it with fascism, because they don’t know it any better. They don’t realize is that this imagery is far older, and they have no right to represent it.
Why are accusers like the one who reached out to us targeting you specifically?
The difference between me and Jinjer in the article is, they have no pagan symbolism and they did not say they were donating their proceeds to the Ukrainian army. I made a pretty bold statement, which is a bone in Russia’s throat that’s making them choke. I have everything they need for their propaganda to work. Pagan symbolism is perfect for them right now, and they’re already using that the justify your aggression.
You’re in America right now – how often did you return to Ukraine, before the current invasion?
I have been back to Kyiv a few years ago. I went down for myself, just to see and test out Russian propaganda. I’ve been a Russian-speaking Ukrainian for most of my life. Most of my family are also Russian speakers. So it was embedded onto mew to participate in their culture. But back in when they invaded Donetsk region, they were saying, Russians are getting attacked by Ukrainians for speaking Russian! Ukrainian aggression against native Russians! I went to test that out in Kyiv, in…this was 2015, I believe, so right at the start of the war. I went into every single store speaking Russian. I greeted everybody in Russia. And guess what? They all spoke Russian too! No discrimination against me whatsoever. There were billboards in Ukraine that were also Russian. They still had Russia-speaking TV channels. I didn’t feel any different than when I was a kid living there, before or after the war. I experienced firsthand that that Russian propaganda is bullshit.
Tell me about the Ukrainian metal scene. Do you still feel connected to it?
Yeah, of course, I do have a huge connection to the Ukrainian scene. I mean, they kind of use the same sort of themes as I do. I feel a huge connection to that. I mean, Russian bands also do that, but I’m obviously going to have a bigger connection to where I’m from. They also use the Ukrainian language, which is very unique and inviting to me. There’s just something about it that’s very hard to explain. Musically, there’s this sadness and this struggle of being Ukrainian for the past few hundred years. I mean, Russia invading is nothing new, so that spirit fo trying to survive through centuries of Russia trying to erase us, that energy, that has a big imprint on the music.
Do you feel that the Ukrainian and Russian metal scenes are inherently different?
I just think there are a lot fewer Russian bands doing [what Selfgod does]. If you use Pagan imagery in Russia, you’re automatically canceled. They can throw you in jail if they want. We had bands like Behemoth in Russia get arrested for blasphemy. I’m sure a lot of bands are scared to talk about these topics. In Ukraine, it’s all open. The government praises it as history, and national pride.
So it’s really as bad as we think — people get jailed for sharing pagan art.
People sharing anti-Putin memes have been arrested. They’ve had the SWAT team sent after them. It’s not you praising paganism, it’s anything they don’t agree with. A lot of people just don’t know. I’m not against Russian people, I’m just against anyone who praises Putin and war.
Whether or not Selfgod represents these values, do you think the Ukrainian metal scene DOES have an issue with bigotry or far-right politics? Is that something that you’ve witnessed in the scene?
I mean, honestly, I don’t know a single bands that’s racist or homophobic. I think that’s an extension of Russian propaganda trying to ruin Ukrainian artists. I really have no examples of that.
So, after all of these political questions: what is Selfgod’s music about? What is the message you’re trying to get across?
Message-wise, I wanted to get very spiritual. Yes, it’s Slavic paganism, and these themes are expressed through European paganism, but my album is basically about resurrection and my culture’s viewpoint on reincarnation. Life after death. And to me, this relates to many cultures throughout the world. Before Christianity, everyone was pagan. And I’m just drawing these parallels, saying, Hey, we’re not any different. Selfgod kind of has a double meaning – one is that we’re all descendants from gods, as many pagans believed, but it also means being your own god. Being in control of your life and what you do.
Selfgod’s Born of Death is available now to stream and purchase.