“We’ll Withstand the Horde”

The author and singer is Nikolay (Kolya) Serga, a Russian pop singer turned travel show host/TV personality. It’s an anti-Russian sung in Russian—unsurprising in a country where most know Russian and many, including I believe President Zelensky, spoke it in preference to Ukrainian for most of their lives—and of course it’s hard to fully appreciate in English. But here’s a translation; I lack the gifts to translate it in full rhyme and meter, but I tried to play with a few lines to make them work that way, at the expense of some imprecision in translation. I also tried to preserve the song’s contemptuous tone. (You can read the original text here.)

The footnotes explain some cultural referents (though I’m sure I’ve missed others), and also note some of the substantive changes I made when translating. The opening and closing lines aren’t really part of the song; They are just spoken lines on the video, but they struck me as providing important framing. If anyone has any corrections to the translation (or proposed improvements), please let me know.

{[Spoken:] Together we are strong,
And the strength is in each of us!}

Russian Johnny[1] stomps our soil
With his boots covered in mud
Choosing where it would be nicest
To forever spill his blood[2]
Bullet nips on Johnny’s nose
Johnny lays down on the path
So in time he can come back as a lovely patch of grass[3]

[Chorus:] Dor-dor-dor-dor-dor-dor
We’ll stand the horde[4]

On the trident[5] like a skewer
We’ll stick the two-headed eagle[6]
So that the imperial . infection
Will leave the body of the globe[7]

And in Tver'[8] the housewife attacks Instagram
Contemplating the gaps in the political shows
Decides about Donbass and Crimea
Having salted the chicken soup
But he doesn’t know if this is the last pot
And from now it will just be crackers


Putin in his bunker sits
Fiddling with the suitcase[9]
Either on the sanctions spits
Or at Biden he will growl,
Likes the button,
Closing the bunker’s latch
And his warhead
Sticks out of his underwear


On the Kuril Islands[10] they
Arigato[11]loudly say
In Siberia, “ni-hao
When they want to say “good day”
In Koenigsberg[12] in German
In Chechnya there’s a coup
And in Moscow on parade[13]
You will always hear it played,[14]
Shche ne vmerla Ukraini
I slava i volia


{[Spoken:] Glory to Ukraine!
Glory to the heroes![16]
Russian warship,
Go fuck yourself![17]}

[1] Literally “Van’ka,” which (roughly speaking) is to “Ivan” (the Russian analog of “John”) as “Johnny” is to “John.”

[2] In the original, “leave his body forever.”

[3] In the original, “as lovely wheat,” which I realize is better. A reference to the defiant Ukrainian woman who offered sunflower seeds to an armed Russian soldier so that the flower would bloom from his body once he was buried in the Ukrainian soil.

[4] Likely a reference to the Mongols’ Golden Horde—the word “horde” is a Turkic word that was specifically used for the Mongols before it became a generic term in the West. The Mongol invasion, which destroyed the first Ukrainian Russian kingdom, is of course well remembered in Ukraine.

[5] The Ukrainian national symbol.

[6] The Russian national symbol.

[7] I’m not even trying for rhyme or meter here.

[8] I suspect this is just used as a generic provincial Russian city.

[9] Presumably the suitcase refers to the fabled suitcase with the nuclear weapons codes, and the button to the button for launching the nuclear weapons.

[10] Russian islands in the Far East, which are in part claimed by Japan.

[11] In the original, it’s “konichiwa,” but I took liberties for the sake of meter.

[12] Koenigsberg was once a major German (East Prussian) city; Immanuel Kant lived there, and its bridges appeared in a famous graph theory problem solved by the great German mathematician Leonhard Euler. It is now Kaliningrad, the main city in that little Russian pocket you see on the maps, between Poland and Lithuania (and potentially dangerously separated from the rest of Russia). Trouble waiting to happen.

[13] In the original, “on Victory Day,” the celebration of the victory over the Nazis—still a major holiday both in Russia and, I understand, in Ukraine.

[14] In the original, “sings the hymn without an accent,” which is better, but I thought I could get a rhyme in here.

[15] The opening lines of the Ukrainian national anthem: “Ukraine’s glory and freedom is not dead yet.”

[16] A Ukrainian patriotic slogan, and the official salute of the Ukrainian armed forces.

[17] A reference to the defiant lines of the Ukrainian soldiers refusing to surrender to a Russian warship.

UPDATE: I originally translated the refrain as starting with “We’ll survive the horde,” but an exchange with my brother Sasha led me to think that “We’ll withstand the horde” might better capture the sentiment (though “survive” might have a slightly more casual quality, which would better match the song’s tone).

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