Violence often visits the capital Kyiv, in short bursts maybe once or twice a week in the form of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones that send people running to shelters awaiting the all clear.
Yet for the majority of the time, life goes on as best it can in the face of Russian aggression – shops sell their wares, cafés serve drinks, and music venues welcome those looking for an escape.
“The capital's electronic scene is trying to function between air raids, blackouts, missile attacks, and even prejudice from the public,” says Alexander Klimtsov, who plays under the name DJ Mr Sunny.
“Some people believe that DJing is all about fun and drunk dancing people only. This is one of the stereotypes the electronic music community had to break.
“Most Ukrainian DJs have proven their public benefit and, since it became possible to hold parties, many DJs have performed at charity events and participated in volunteer activities.”
One of the most striking examples of the melding of music with public service is the “clean-up rave” – the clearing of debris from sites of Russian attacks with an on-site DJ providing a motivational backing track.
A club night in Kyiv
Yet the standard city center club night in the context of a country at war has become a public service in itself – one that provides and contributes far more than they could ever do in a country at peace.
“It is impossible to forget about the war, because it does not forget about us,” Alina tells Kyiv Post at a Friday night music event in the capital. “But you need to live life.”
This desire to be able to indulge in pre-war pastimes like clubbing is far removed from the purely hedonistic nights out in Europe’s other major cities on any given night, and almost all involve some form of fundraising either for reconstruction or Ukraine’s armed forces.
“It is necessary to combine assistance to the country, the army together with everyday life,” Alina adds.
“After all, if everyone gets hung up on events and ‘just goes home’, then we will not have enough strength to endure for a long time. Mental health problems significantly affect performance and overall physical health.
“Therefore, sometimes you need to unload, give yourself a rest in order to return to life with new strength. After all, ‘a strong rear equals a strong army.’”
Kyiv’s music scene also provides a crucial escape for those serving on the frontlines when they have the opportunity to take leave.
“I rarely attend parties because I am a military man of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Danylo tells Kyiv Post.
“But when I have weekends – which happens quite rarely – I want to do something that will remind me of the past carefree life.”
Reflecting on his visits to Kyiv’s clubs, Danylo’s mood becomes more somber: “I come to parties when I have the opportunity, because subconsciously I want to feel the same sensations as before.
“I don't feel them. I want to, but I can't. It's like it's not the same. I do not know if I will ever be able to experience the same serenity.
“Perhaps this is due to the fact that the war is not over yet, or perhaps this is already an imprint on my psyche.”
Putting on a successful club night is a tricky endeavor at the best of times, but a war zone presents a whole other level of challenges.
Although the power situation in Kyiv has stabilized in recent days, Russia’s months-long mass missile and drone campaign against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure meant rolling blackouts in the capital, unlit streets and homes, and chaos on the roads as traffic lights went dark.
Despite this, Kyiv never stopped working – a petrol generator chugging away outside every shop, café and restaurant became a familiar sight on the city’s streets.
“Usually, every venue where a DJ event occurs has a generator in case of a blackout,” says Klimtsov.
“During my performances, the power has gone out several times, and of course, it takes some time to switch the power to the generators.”
Despite being hundreds of miles from the front lines, the threat of Russian missiles is an ever-present danger in Kyiv where air raid sirens sound several times a week.
They don’t always lead to an actual attack, but venues where many people have gathered can’t take any risk.
“During an air raid, events should be suspended,” says Klimtsov. I’ve witnessed parties when people left the location because of the risk of a missile attack and returned an hour and a half or even two hours later when all was clear.”
Ukraine is still under martial law and while the exact times vary from city to city, in Kyiv it means a curfew from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. during which the public must stay at home and anyone wandering the streets is liable to be stopped, questioned and – if they don’t have a very good excuse – detained.
Earlier in the war, the curfew began even earlier and Kyiv’s music scene adapted the only way it could – daytime parties.
“In May, when it became calmer in Kyiv, we started organizing charity events and daytime parties,” Kyiv-based DJ Rostova tells Kyiv Post.
“Part of the ticket cost or the total price was a donation to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. That way, we were having a good time and helping our country.
“We finished the event at about 9:40 p.m., so people had time to leave before the curfew.”
In the face of such obstacles, the fact Kyiv’s music scene still thrives is testament to a people who, despite facing the onslaught of a genocidal invasion, refuse to let the Kremlin dictate the terms of their lives.
“Small Ukrainian music events help restore the emotional state, renew communication and develop music culture,” says Klimtsov.
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