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This musician helps homesick Ukrainians feel a little more at home in Poland

Roman Panchenko, from Chernihiv, performs in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.
Adam Lach for NPR
Roman Panchenko, from Chernihiv, performs in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.

Castle Square, the main plaza in Warsaw's historic Royal Square, is a scenic hotspot full of tourists taking selfies, children on school trips, and locals grabbing food at fancy restaurants.

Roman Panchenko sings Ukrainian music for the homesick in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.
/ Adam Lach for NPR
/
Adam Lach for NPR
Roman Panchenko sings Ukrainian music for the homesick in Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.

It's also where you might find street musician Roman Panchenko strumming his guitar while singing in his native Ukrainian.

It's an act that has become a form of protest and source of solidarity since the Russian invasion. It has also created a sense of belonging for homesick Ukrainians in the crowd.

"They are feeling uncomfortable in this country because they think there's few Ukrainians," says Panchenko, who is from Chernihiv. "But there's a lot of Ukrainians in this country and we are standing altogether."

His confidence is as new as the war in his home country.

"I was afraid of singing in the street," he says.

The war helped him overcome that fear. Now, he regularly sings the national anthem in Warsaw's old city.

"Because I think it was the best way I can help my country," he says. "To promote some songs of Ukraine."

On his feet are mismatched socks — one yellow, one blue: The colors of the Ukrainian flag.

More than three million Ukrainians have moved to Poland in less than three months. And he can spot them in the crowd.

"Every time we come here, someone came up to us and just ask to play some more Ukrainian songs."

And every time Panchenko sees a fellow Ukrainian in the audience, he ends his song the same way.

"Slava Ukraina!" he yells. In Ukrainian, the crowd yells back "gierojom slava!" — glory to heroes.

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Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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Ayen Bior
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.