Thirst for freedom: Kyiv’s queer clubbing community returns to the dancefloor
As Russia continues to wage war against Ukraine, photographer Arthur Vovchenko captures clubgoers coming alive at daytime raves
While the stark reality of war continues to be an unavoidable part of daily life in Ukraine, finding solace in community is more important than ever. There’s an urgency for resilience, tenacity, and most importantly, the need for human contact — and now, Ukrainians are looking for a means to stay connected and be reminded of some form of normality.
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“The war changes your life and your way of thinking completely, just in the way you look at things. In the first months of the war, I stopped seeing beauty in what once seemed wonderful,” says Kyiv-based photographer Arthur Vovchenko. “Now, I feel rage that gives me the strength to move on and, at the same time, the strength and love for what surrounds me. You start to appreciate everything you have lost and can lose, especially your friends.”
Arthur has been photographing Kyiv’s queer parties for a handful of years, but ever since Russia’s invasion in February, those community-driven nights were halted. Though Kyiv is slowly reopening, ongoing restrictions and a curfew ensure residents are home by 11:PM — so the city now comes alive in the daytime. Most events, parties, and mini-festivals take place throughout the day — aiming to show the world “how strong, brave, free, and independent we are,” Arthur explains. “Today, in wartime, our community is starting to make itself visible again. New parties awaken memories of a long-forgotten phenomenon: life.”
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To celebrate the stopgap return to normality, Arthur photographed one particular queer party, STEZHKA, on the first weekend of October. “I’m so happy that people are dancing again,” he explains. “We are going through very dark times, so parties are valued differently now. I feel that the community needs this space, we need to see each other, kiss, talk, and dance in order to support each other and ourselves.”
"We do not forget that we are a free nation that knows what we are fighting for — for freedom, in every sense of the word. We were born to be free.”
Check out some of Arthur’s photos taken at Kyiv queer party STEZHKA below.