This is Pasha Nikolaenko. Before quarantine, he made cocktails in the Kyiv bar “Tom Sour.”
His friends say that he was famous throughout Kyiv due to his curly chevelure, and the Stay Ugly tattoos on the phalanges of his fingers.
Pasha loved being a barman, enjoyed the company of good friends, and punk.
Pasha also loved Ira.
Pasha and Ira lived in this cozy flat in a Kyiv housing project for 4 years. They moved in together almost immediately after meeting each other, and since then had done everything together: partied, traveled, grew mint on the windowsill for Pasha’s cocktails.
In this same cozy flat, Pasha hanged himself. The task force that responded to the police call thought that he had been an alpinist, because the knot on the rope was so adeptly and intricately tied.
It was apparent that he had prepared himself for a long time to commit suicide.
Shocked friends and acquaintances had written off the suicide as a result of quarantine, the pressures of lack of money, and isolation.
But everything was more complicated than it seemed.
This is Morzh, a famous barman and a close friend of Pasha’s.
They met in Crimea many years ago.
“I worked at a punk bar – a pretty atypical place for Sevastopol. We had to quickly engage and get to know any sorts of people that looked cool, so that they would come hang around more often. Pavlik was curly-haired, redheaded, tattooed, and ear gauges. This impressed me” Morzh recalls.
In 2014 after his move to Kyiv, Morzh called Pasha for them to work together in the bar. They spent six years side by side working at a variety of different bars.
On his arrival to Kyiv, Pasha met Ira.
20-year old Ira was going through a tough time – her parents had caught her using drugs and grounded her.
Even though Pasha was five years older than Ira, he quickly became trusted by Ira’s mom, and became the only person that was allowed to take Ira out of the home.
“I fell in love with Pasha outright – he became my lifeline that pulled me into adult life. When I would go to the bar that he worked at, Pasha would shout: “Everyone look, my girl arrived!” Ira tells.
The first three years of Pasha and Ira’s relationship was very good. They moved to Ira’s flat. Pasha worked at the bar, and Ira worked as a hairdresser. They didn’t have much in the way of earnings, but Ira’s parents helped with money.
Besides work, Pasha was always trying to do new things, but these new activities rarely amounted to anything significant.
“Pasha was the sort of person who could generate a lot, create a lot of cool things but they’d all amount to nothing. This baggage of unrealized wishes and ideas accumulated and contributed to the creation of Pasha falling into a state of depression” believes Morzh.
Behind the bar, Pasha was getting drunk more frequently, and when he returned home, conducted himself aggressively towards Ira.
“The first time Pasha beat me was when we went to Kherson to spend time at his mom’s house. We were arguing, and he hit me a few times and began to choke me. Afterwards he turned his belt into a noose and hung it over a tree in order to hang himself. I grabbed him by the feet and said: “Are you a fool or something? Get down!” recalls Ira.
When Pasha sobered up and saw Ira’s bruises, he would always ask for forgiveness.
Ira would forgive.
During this time, Pasha had a new hobby – club life. He would listen to electronic music and would try to write his own tracks and began spending time on Kyrylivska street in one of Kyiv’s night clubs. According to Ira and his friends, he became heavily addicted to drugs.
“At the beginning it was ecstasy, then amphetamines, ketamine. Very often he would mix and cross all the drugs. He would also combine that with alcohol” says Ira.
“Pavlik’s period of time in Kyrylivska was fucking awful. It was the only thing he ever wanted to talk about. He would say “I’m in Kyrylivska this and that.” It was some sort of fucking Sunday church” recalls Morzh.
When quarantine began, the bars and clubs all closed. Pasha and Ira stayed home with each other.
At the beginning everything began to improve. Pasha rejoiced in the quarantine and used the time to write music, and for a while he really focused on this.
His focus on music quickly dried up as it often as it had before.
For money, Pasha would from time to time work as a visiting barman at private parties. According to Ira, at these events Pasha would get drunk and continued to use drugs.
The fights at home started to occur more often.
Ira never told anyone – neither her parents nor friends. She was ashamed: “I always lied to mom that I had gotten into a fight with a friend at the bar. I would tell her that what I had on my neck was a hickey, not a bruise.”
This was all occurring behind the scenes, even though on the outside, Pasha and Ira looked like a regular, happy couple.
This is Max, a friend of Pasha’s.
“If I’m being honest, I never noticed that Pasha and Ira had any personal problems. I never encountered abuse in my family, and that’s why I never really think about those sorts of things. In the same way that white people never think about the problems that black people face, or how straight people think about problems faced by LGBT folks” shares Max.
Pasha’s problems with alcohol and drugs soon saw another problem added to the collection. His friend Yura told us that Pasha was having doubts about his gender identity. Even though people close to him tried to support him, Pasha felt discomfort.
“In heteronormative relationships between men and women, you can’t give your internal Angelika a green light – and by that I mean become a woman, let’s say, somehow blur the lines of gender identity in order for it to be acceptable for a Slavic man from the post-Soviet space” ponders Yura.
Ira accepted the new identity of Pasha, but he was hesitant to talk about it with her.
“When Pasha would go to the different clubs, he would see all of this freedom and began to dress up weirdly in my clothes. I accepted this, I just asked him not to do this in front of my parents; they wouldn’t have been able to understand” shares Ira.
The day before his suicide, Pasha got really drunk. Ira tried to convince him for a long time to go to sleep. He then became enraged and beat her, this time very badly.
She even cried in the hopes that the neighbors would call the police. The police never came. Then, Ira decided to leave the flat.
I left by car, and the whole time I was looking at my reflection in the mirror. I looked at my face and I realized what he had done to me” remembers Ira.
In the morning, Ira returned in the hopes of speaking to Pasha. The conversation never stuck, so Ira then asked Pasha to gather his things and leave.
“I hope that you will be able to forgive me sometime” was a text message Ira received after a few hours from Pasha.
Returning home, she discovered Pasha dead.
Morzh gave the eulogy at Pasha’s funeral.
He says that he understands Pasha’s reasons for committing suicide, but he thinks that the problems that drove him to suicide are inherent to many 30-somethings and are connected to upbringing and socialization.
“We are millennials that are trapped. We are a generation that was raised by Soviet parents, released by the system that cultivated shame. We are ashamed to speak to each other about important things, we are ashamed to declare our love, we are ashamed to tell when we are beaten at home. We are ashamed to say that we actually want to change our sex. This is because nobody taught us that we can broadcast this to the world as we please.”
“In my family it is commonly accepted to keep your emotions to yourself. We don’t cry, we hide our tears” Ira says. After Pasha’s death, she had panic attacks. Her friends referred her to a psychologist.
Now Ira goes to a psychotherapist and plans to continue her therapy sessions because she is scared to get in a relationship that reminds her of a “bad trip.”
She left her old job and plans to return to her studies.
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