“It was dark, sweaty, loud and wonderful. Here a country locked in a war that touched every person in the room but still, they were dancing their hearts out.”
In Kyiv, the rave had been planned for weeks. The space had been secured, the DJs were booked, the drinks had been supplied, the invites sent, and the security all lined up. The organizers had planned it all, right down to the very last detail.
But what they hadn’t planned for was a Russian missile strike, far from the front lines but killing more than 25 people, including children, in central Ukraine. An attack that deeply unsettled the people of Ukraine.
The rave organizers met to make a hard decision: should they postpone the party?
Collectively they decided no way.
“That’s exactly what the Russians want,” said Dmytro Vasylkov, one of the organizers.
So, as planned, they rigged up the enormous speakers, blasted the air-con, and covered the windows with thick black curtains to stop the daylight from peering through. They had secured access to an old silk factory in Kyiv’s industrial quarter.
The room soon filled with young men, bare-chested after peeling their t-shirts off their sticky, sweaty backs, and young women, with tight dresses, each and every person facing forward, moving as if they were in a trance.
Dark. Sweaty. Loud.
But the partygoers seemed to leave all their worries at the door. Even in a war that had touched every single person in the room, they danced like their lives depended on it.
“If you know how to use it, this is the cure,” said one raver, Oleksii Pidhoretskii, a young man who lives with his grandmother and hadn’t been out of the house for months.
After months of silence, Kyiv nightlife is creeping back.
For many, this is the first time that they are venturing outside since the war began. Drinks along the river. Meeting up with a friend they haven’t seen in a while. Sipping cocktails at a bar…
Kyiv is a city full of young people who have been cooped up for far too long. Firstly because of the Covid pandemic, and now the war with Russia. Each person yearns for contact. To be out amongst friends, family, strangers even. And what makes this urge even greater is war. Especially the war with Russia, where many know that a Russian cruise missile can take them out anywhere, anytime.
As summer welcomes warm sunny days, and the heavy fighting is now mostly concentrated in Ukraine’s east, hundreds of miles away from the capital, Kyiv is starting to feel less guilty about going out.
“This was a big question for me: Is it OK to work during the war? Is it OK to pour a cocktail during the war?” said Bohdan Chehorka, a bartender. “But the first shift was the answer. I could see it in the customers’ eyes. It was psychotherapy for them.”
As each weekend rolls by, it’s becoming easier and easier to find a party. People spill out of sidewalk cafes, hip-hop parties are hosted outside even whilst it rains, hundreds of people sit on the walled banks of the Dnipro River with drinks in hands and sharing laughter amongst friends. Scenes not uncommon for a city in the summer.
But a curfew looms over Kyiv. There may be fun to be had but there’s caution to take.
At 11 pm, everyone must be off the streets and in their homes. Anyone caught violating the curfew will be faced with fines, or worse. For young men they may face a heavier consequence: an order to report for military service.
That means bars close at 10 to allow staff time to get home. Last orders are usually around 9 so people start making their way home earlier. The rave in the silk factory started at two-thirty in the afternoon. But even at such an odd hour attendees said that for a fleeting moment the rave helped them forget about the ongoing war.
But the war is not just a looming shadow. It’s a force that directs everyone’s life, dominating their thoughts, and influencing their moods. Both the hip-hop party and the rave donated proceeds from ticket and drink sales to the war effort and humanitarian crisis – partly the reason they were held in the first place.
The war is a hot subject on everyone’s minds, controlling conversation across the city. But Chehorka, a bartender at the Pink Freud commented on how the war had changed the psyche of the people of Kyiv.
“Kyiv’s different now,” he told the New York Times. “People are more polite, more friendly. They’re not drinking as hard.”
The people of the city are itching for close comfort, however. Recently a cuddle party was held in which two dozen people gathered just to hold one another. Maksym Yasnyi, a graphic designer who attended the cuddle party, spoke out about how “cool” the event was, but it wasn’t like going out before the war.
“Before the war, Kyiv nightlife was sparkling with different colors,” he said. “You could spend the whole night going from party to party. If I allow myself to think about this, I’ll make myself really upset.”
Now when the clock strikes 10 a nervous energy fills Kyiv. People drinking by the river cap their drinks, get up, and walk quickly. Cars move faster, running yellow lights more often. Uber prices triple. People run down the streets in an effort to beat the curfew.
At 11, Kyiv stops. All the energy that was building grinds to a halt, plunging the city in silence.