They put on their pink, orange and green sunglasses again. Out of the closets came high platform shoes, short black skirts, leather leggings and metal jewellery.
They were hip, young and beautiful, and ready to party on a recent balmy summer evening in a dramatic setting — a bombed-out ruin of a building damaged by war and littered with debris.
They were brought together by the group Repair Together, which hopes to revive Ukraine’s once famous, pre-invasion rave scene, but with a wartime twist: doing good while having fun.
Andriy Diachenko, whose stage name is DJ Recid, spun the tunes. And the crowd of 20-somethings — dressed in their nightclub finery — pushed wheelbarrows, shovelled rubble and swept dust, all while nodding and swaying to the beat.
“Right now, it feels inappropriate to go clubbing,” said Tetyana Burianova (26), one of the rave’s organisers, and an avid partygoer in Kyiv’s nightlife scene before the war. “I do want to go back to my former life but only after the war. While there is war, my life, like everyone’s, is only about volunteering.”
The activists with Repair Together, who are from Kyiv, did not have partying in mind when they began soliciting local volunteers to repair destroyed buildings in villages outside the capital, in areas liberated this spring from Russian occupation. The volunteers would clear away debris and make small repairs. The group would then post about their work on Instagram to try to encourage more people to help.
After each cleanup, the activists would organise a concert or other entertainment, often for children. The locals — worn out from five months of relentless shelling and missile strikes — were enthusiastic. And so Repair Together decided to combine music-making with the repair work.
The idea of a rave was born.
Burianova said the group hoped to clean 25 buildings with rave parties before winter arrived. The recent party, in Yahidne, a village north of Kyiv, was the first.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of cleanup sites, and their numbers are growing daily. As of August 8th, about 131,000 buildings in Ukraine had been destroyed by Russian shelling and missile strikes, according to the Kyiv School of Economics. The Ministry of Culture estimates that about 65 village cultural clubs have been destroyed. These are similar to community centres, and in many villages, before the war, often held disco parties every Friday night.
For many of the about 200 partygoers who turned up for the rave in the destroyed House of Culture in Yahidne, it was the first time in months they had put on party clothes.
“I haven’t played for five months,” said DJ Recid, who once played in Kyiv’s ultra-popular No Name club. “It’s the best rave I can imagine now,” he said. “We dance together, and we repair together.”
Yahidne, a village in the Chernihiv region, was occupied by Russian forces on March 3rd, and liberated by the Ukrainian army on March 31st. Many houses in the village were ruined, but the occupation is also known for a particularly grim episode.
While the Russians controlled the village, more than 300 people, including 77 children, were imprisoned in a dank basement at the village school. They were used as a human shield for the Russian troops based there. Ten of the captives died.
Many of the villagers in Yahidne were grateful to see the activists organise the recent rave.
“We feel that the village is not empty when they are here,” said Viktoria Hatsura (29), whose son was also helping to clean up the rubble. Together with her three children, she spent almost a month in captivity in the basement during the Russian occupation.
She said she was happy to see so many young people willing to bring positive emotions and help to her village.
Other residents in Yahidne praised the effort, but not the techno music. “I can’t say I like the music but I’m grateful to these children for their work,” said Oksana Yatsenko (42), who lives close to the House of Culture.
Before the war, Kyiv parties had become known far beyond Ukraine’s borders. Raves in industrial facilities, semi-abandoned buildings, clubs and the open air on riverbanks took place regularly. Now, destroyed villages are the backdrop.
At the Yahidne party site, black burn marks scarred the red brick walls of the House of Culture, which has no roof. In the middle of the dance floor was a heap of rubble.
The crowd, holding shovels and buckets, energetically nodded and stomped to the beat, while filling up the buckets and bags. The DJ played on a stage decorated with a tinsel curtain, fluttering and sparkling in the sunshine. Speakers were perched on tripods amid the rubble. All around was plenty of exposed brick. Some local children turned up to help.
“I was always clubbing before the war,” said Solomiya Yaskiv (23), a publicity manager at a technology company in Kyiv. “Right now there are almost no parties in Kyiv and anyway I am not mentally ready for them. Here, it’s different. I can once again enjoy cool music and look at stylish and beautiful people, while doing something useful.” — This article originally appeared in The New York Times