Let’s imagine that the ability to transform yourself into another person has already become a reality. It might be something similar to an immersive virtual reality device – but the experience would be real. An employee at the reincarnation center would introduce you to its rules and warn you that you won’t be able to go back if something happens to your temporary body.

You then close your eyes and wake up in the body of a 23-year-old Ukrainian guy. As you look in the mirror, you see a tall, fit young man of average build with brown eyes and dark, thick hair staring back at you. Through the window you see a wide street with typical mid-20-century buildings in a style that’s a mixture of Baroque and Empire. You can tell by the tall column in the massive square farther down that you are in Kyiv; it’s the famous “Stella” Independence Monument on the Maidan, as Independence Square is called in the Ukrainian capital.

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The sunlit street is dappled with the green of trees under a clear blue sky. It’s summer, but there’s a tension in the air. As if thousands of strings were stretched all around with electricity flowing through them. But the people have gotten used to this strange, new reality. This is how the war, which has been going on here for about a year and a half, feels.

“Yes, right now, when every evening could be your last, you feel the most alive.”

Where youth burns and raves at midday into evening

Life in the country goes on, no one has forgotten about the war, but everyone has somehow adapted to it. You understand the need to protect your nervous system from the shock of realizing that in the 21st century, someone can start a bloody war against their nearest neighbor. You open Instagram in search of something interesting to do for the evening. And you come across an announcement about the Ukrainian electronic music festival Laboratorium, which will take place on June 10 and 11.

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In previous years, it would be a party that went through the night. But in the new reality, parties in Kyiv usually start at noon and end by 10 p.m., due to the curfew. The organizers often donate part of the profits to the Armed Forces of Ukrainian or to support those in need throughout the country.

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From the official announcement of Laboratorium, you will learn that the event will take place at two different locations. After paying the entrance fee, you’ll get an email with the addresses of these venues and a strong recommendation not to disclose the party locations on social media until they are over. This is done for security reasons, so that the neighboring terrorist country doesn’t decide to commit another terrorist attack in a crowded place. In the letter, the organizers also provide the addresses of the nearest shelters in case of an air raid.

On the first day of the festival, you arrive at the venue located in one of the pavilions of the Exhibition Center. At the entrance, you’re checked by security. The security guards have the right to refuse entry without explaining the reasons. There’s also an ambulance stationed at the entrance in case someone falls ill.

Once inside, you find yourself in a spacious, dimly lit room beaming with ultraviolet disco lights. The room is divided into several parts. In the first, there’s a cloakroom and a small exhibition of paintings created with glowing neon colors. Along the exposition, there are many places to relax, and a little further away, there’s an area where you can drink tea.

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Next to the tea area, there’s a table on which a boy and a girl are arranging something. During the conversation with them, you discover that they’re representatives of the educational Drugstore Project from the Alliance for Public Health, which is supported by Elton John’s charitable foundation.

Dealing with sex and drugs

This socially important project has been operating in Ukraine since 2017, focusing on the health and well-being of young individuals who lead active lifestyles and experiment with drugs. Currently, Drugstore representatives are present at almost every party in Kyiv.

“Since it is impossible to stop drug use completely, we aim to at least reduce the harm from drug use. That’s why we give away sterile intranasal kits for free at every party. Because people usually use banknotes, which contain a lot of bacteria. We also offer reagents that help identify the composition of the drugs, ensuring protection against poisoning from unknown substances. In addition, we provide condoms and lubricants,” says the project representative.

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Then you take a photo of the QR code that’s linked to an anonymous survey, and you will receive a free “party box.” The contents of the “gift” will roughly correspond to the “assortment” of the party. However, some of its items will depend on your answers. An important component of the box is an HIV test, electrolytes to support the body during the party and vitamin complexes to help recover afterwards.

The girl notes that at some parties, together with the organizers, they introduce the “position” of trip-sitters. These are trained people who, if necessary, will provide physical or psychological assistance to anyone who needs it. Also, at some parties, Drugstore representatives distribute leaflets describing psychoactive substances, the harmful effects of their use and their correct dosage. More information and feature articles on clubbing safety, sex, or mental health can be found on the Drugstore’s official website.

“But this is not the main thing we do. Every week, we hold free online and offline lectures on topics such as safe sex, disease prevention, the consequences of drug use, and health care. We also offer free psychological support. You can make an appointment with a doctor or a narcologist even if you don’t have the means to pay. And if needed, we provide legal support,” the girl from the Drugstore says as you say goodbye.

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Last night a DJ saved my life

After reflecting on the new and somewhat unusual information, you proceed to the next section of the venue. This vast space is the dance floor, and at the end of it, there is a stage where DJs perform. Large light installations on the ceiling illuminate the dark room, and there are hundreds of dancing people around you. You can hear rhythmic electronic music, something in the style of psychedelic trance with a tinge of heavy techno.

The DJ is a lively young man who has just arrived for a few days from Berlin and is performing in Ukraine for the first time. After the performance, he unfurls the Ukrainian flag. Strange sensations overwhelm you, and it seems like you’ve never experienced life as intensely as you do now. Yes, right now, when every evening could be your last, you feel the most alive.

You manage to have a brief conversation with the DJ. He eagerly tells you that it’s important for him to support Ukraine and its culture as much as possible. Besides, he adds, he wanted to come here before the full-scale war started. 

“Many of my Ukrainian friends told me that Kyiv is a beautiful city. But when I saw it with my own eyes, it amazed me. I fell in love with this city so much that it’s hard for me to go home. But what touched my heart most was the Ukrainians and how warmly they welcomed me,” MSKD (the name by which the DJ is known) says enthusiastically.

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You’re a little surprised that this guy wasn’t afraid to come to a country under constant Russian shelling. As if hearing your point, the DJ admits that he was indeed a little worried about the potential threat. But not for long, as he quickly realized that “Ukrainians live like this every day.”

“The organizers gave me a lot of good advice and were always in touch with me. For example, they asked me not to share any photos or videos until the event was over to ensure the safety of those present from the dangers of shelling. And, of course, they asked me to adhere to the curfew,” MSKD notes.

A soldier forgets the unforgettable – but only for a while

Excited by the conversation with the foreign guest, you pass through the bar, which is full of brightly and unusually dressed people. On the other side of the pavilion, there’s a courtyard where you can eat. Here, you see a young man and later introduce yourself to him. His name is Kyrylo, he’s 23 years old, and he serves in the military. He was granted a few days of leave, after which he will return to the eastern front.

Kyrylo says that before the full-scale war, he was a programmer and enjoyed attending rave parties. It’s the first time in six months that he’s had the opportunity to attend such an event. And with his military ID, he gets in free.

“Right now, I can’t say exactly how I feel about it. I certainly have nothing against people enjoying themselves in this way. We need distractions from the war to avoid going insane. But we shouldn’t forget about it either,” Kyrylo shares his thoughts with you. “It’s good when events combine leisure and support. For me, the party and dancing are the best way to temporarily forget about reality, to relieve the nervous system. Although after everything we’ve been through, it’s hard to get the war out of our minds.”

By nightfall, you return home, and the next day you head to the second Laboratorium location, this time in the open air. In addition to performances on two music stages, there’s a fair featuring items made by Ukrainian manufacturers.

You meet a variety of people there: refugees, volunteers, programmers, doctors, police officers, artists, and visitors to the city. They’ve all come to dance and relieve the tension of everyday life during the war. So that in the morning, they can wake up with renewed energy and continue their important work: supporting their country and the army, living through their best years in the challenging conditions of wartime.

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