The song about Belarusian migrants, ‘Can I Come with You,’ has become an anthem for homeless animals. Where did it come from?

Screenshot of YouTube video of the song “Can I Come With You” from Arseniy's YouTube channel . Fair use.

 Holod Magazine published an article about viral TikTok song that accompanies videos about homeless animals, a song that was initially about emigration from Belarus. A translated and edited version is republished by Global Voices/

The song “Can I Come with You” has gone viral on Russian language TikTok: users of the social network are sharing stories about homeless animals they decided to take in from the streets. The author of the song is Belarusian Arseniy Kislyak (AP$ENT), and his track is actually about repression, emigration, and fear for a loved one.

Arseniy Kislyak, better known by the pseudonym AP$ENT, is a musician from Mogilev. Living in Belarus, he has recorded topical tracks, such as, “I Wash and Pray” and “Song of a Merry Belarusian.”

The lyrics says:

Дядя Саша, без обид, но вам никто не рад. Забирайте тетю Лиду (речь о председателе комиссии Республики Беларусь по выборам Лидии Ермошиной. Она занимала этот пост с декабря 1996 года до декабря 2021 года. — Прим. “Холода”), возвращайтесь в ад!

Uncle Sasha, no offence, but no one is glad to see you. Take Aunt Lida [referring to the chairperson of the Republic of Belarus's election commission, Lidia Yermoshina. She held this position from December 1996 to December 2021], and go back to hell!

Lately, Kislyak has gradually built his audience and became more popular. His song “I Wash and Pray.” based on President Alexander Lukashenko's famous statement about how to fight COVID, was noted by the jury of Quarantinevision — an alternative international competition organized by the Russian group Little Big, which couldn't perform at Eurovision due to the pandemic.

After participating in the competition, Arseniy began to gain popularity, and fans even called him the new Lyapis [Lyapis Trubetskoi was a very popular rock band in Belarus and beyond]. But the support of listeners and other artists did not protect Arseniy from repression, and in February 2022, he was forced to leave his homeland and move to Georgia.

Despite the bold lyrics, it was not Arseniy who attracted the attention of the authorities, but his wife, Maria. It all started on May 26, 2021, with a harmless comment on the Telegram channel Nexta [Nexta is a popular opposition media based abroad but writing about Belarus]. At the time, the story of the arrest of the former editor-in-chief of Nexta, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend was actively discussed online. Under a post with a photo of Alyaksander Lukashenka, Maria wrote: “Schizo.” A month later, on July 1, 2021, a police officer visited Maria for an inspection, to whom she explained that the comment was addressed to another user and had nothing to do with Lukashenko. By that time, Maria had already deleted the Telegram app and her account. But the explanations didn't help. At the beginning of October, Maria was detained under Article 368 of the Criminal Code: insulting the president of the Republic of Belarus.

During the interrogation, Maria insisted that the word “schizo” was not referring to Lukashenka but was addressed to the previous commenter, who wrote: “I wish we would join Russia, then we would have order.” Nevertheless, she was sent to a temporary detention facility. In the detention center, the authorities, probably trying to get a confession, applied torture: they took away all of Maria's warm clothes and did not let her sleep, despite the fact that she had previously suffered a severe illness.

At the trial on January 11, 2022, Maria changed her testimony, admitted to the charge, and repented. The prosecutor demanded that the court sentence her to a year of prison in a general regime colony, while Maria herself asked for a fine. In the end, Maria was punished with a year of house arrest.

After the verdict was issued, Maria and Arseniy decided to flee the country. In February 2022, with the help of the BYSOL fund, which assists political prisoners in Belarus, they moved to Georgia.

“The choice my wife had, honestly, was questionable: either stay and be on ‘chemistry’, and in Belarus, the attitude towards political prisoners is very bad, or leave,” Arseniy told Belsat in an interview. “We decided that we had to leave”.

In Batumi, Georgia, Arseniy wrote the song “Can I Come with You.” In it, Arseniy talked about how he found out about the detention of his beloved and the decision to leave the country. “I just rhymed events from my life,” the musician explained.

Мог быть славный денек,
Но звонок — тебе грозит срок за пару строк.
Да, тут так себе вайб,
Видимо, пора.
Ну что ж, бывай, родный край!
По кустам ночной тропой.
Да, план отстой. Постой, а можно я с тобой?

But a call came — you're facing time for a couple of lines.
Yeah, the vibe here is so-so,
Seems like it's time.
Well then, farewell, my homeland!
Through the bushes on a night path.
Yeah, the plan is lousy. Wait, can I come with you?

Now, Maria and Arseniy have moved to Poland and are trying to rebuild their lives. During the emergency departure from Belarus, Arseniy had to leave almost all his musical equipment at home, but activists helped him raise money for more. Now, he continues to engage in music and works on new projects. Moreover, Arseniy continues to speak out on the topic of repression in his home country and stands against the war in Ukraine.

However, Arseniy does not consider his songs to be political. According to him, he writes about social issues, although he emphasizes that it's impossible to stay out of politics when the government has deceived the entire country and falsified elections.

TikTok and homeless kittens

The track “Can I Come with You” was released in July 2022, but it only went viral recently. The song has already reached 3.5 million listens on Spotify and over 100,000 posts  use it on TikTok.

However,  internet users have given the song a somewhat different meaning. Most video authors use it to tell stories about homeless animals that look plaintively at passersby in the hope that they will be fed or taken home. 

Screenshot of one of the TikTok videos featuring homeless puppy and the song “Can I Come with You”. Fair Use

Here is the a collection of videos featuring the song:

Можно я с тобой (can i come with you) – AP$ENT

Arseniy himself is not against such a trend. He is even glad that his track gained popularity, reminding people that animals also need a home.

“It's about kindness and love. And that's exactly what I guide myself by in my life,” he told Mediazona Belarus. “I love animals very much and have always dreamed of opening some shelter or aid fund. And it turned out that this song brought the desired fame and as if brought me closer to my long-held dream.”

At the same time, Arseniy jokes that “he wanted to write a love song but ended up writing an anthem for cats.”

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