Youngsters hang out on the rooftop of the Pink Punk art studio arts and culture center

Young Ukrainians in Kyiv – a photo essay | Ukraine

IRestaurants and cafes are open in Kyiv, and some cultural institutions have reopened their doors to visitors. But recently, Russian missiles hit the Ukrainian capital. Photographer Fabian Ritter from the German DOCKS collective spent three weeks with young people in the city, getting to know their perspectives and documenting their new everyday life, growing up and finding their identity while confronting Russian aggression.

Youngsters hang out on the rooftop of the Pink Punk art studio arts and culture center

Of course nobody really wants to party: almost every young person knows someone who is fighting or is otherwise affected by the war. Many have family members in more dangerous areas who often do not want to leave their homes. And every day the media presents more coverage of the invasion. Though Kyiv can sometimes evoke a bygone normality, the threat of Russian missiles is never far away.

More than 100 soldiers die at the front every day; and the Russian army appears to be increasingly attacking civilian targets, including residential buildings and shopping malls.

Young people in the capital are trying to support their home country as best they can: volunteering, fundraising and sorting, activism and raising awareness on social media.

A local band plays at a concert

No one knows yet what their future holds. But despite all the uncertainty, many are optimistic that the Ukrainian military will win.

Sasha, a prospective student who lived under Russian occupation for weeks during the first weeks of the war, tells how absurd it feels to send out applications for jobs and courses when the long-term future is completely unpredictable: “The phase of danger and uncertainty during the occupation of Kyiv Oblast is still very close to me. It was a time without electricity, running water, internet access, and knowing if friends and family would survive. Making plans for a long-term future now in a safer situation when survival was all that mattered in the occupation days is such a huge difference in perspective that it is difficult to manage.”

Sasha lived with his family in the village of Dymer north of Kyiv during the first weeks of the war under Russian occupation

  • Sasha lived with his family in the village of Dymer north of Kyiv during the first weeks of the war under Russian occupation

Nick, singer of the band Skinkedy, reports that he has deleted all his songs in Russian, he only wants to sing in Ukrainian: “My main goal is to prevent the disappearance of our language, our music and our culture.”

Many young people speak of the difficulties they face in finding new jobs to replace those lost at the start of the war. Anton says: “There really isn’t an entertainment industry that I’ve worked in for the past few years. I now spend my days volunteering but I don’t know what will bring me money in the long run.”

Left, June from Odessa. On the right, Ksenia poses for a portrait in Shevchenko Park

Left, Maryna studies camera. That’s right, Denis is studying theater in Kyiv
Clockwise from top right: Ksenia poses for a portrait in Shevchenko Park. She is grateful that she can still live in the capital; Denis studies theater in Kyiv. He considers himself lucky as no family member has died or is fighting at the front; Maryna is studying camera and working on a project about a friend who suffered severe trauma in the army in the early stages of the war; June from Odessa is currently living as a refugee in Kyiv and would like to change the gender in her passport as her documents still list her as male, which prevents her from leaving Ukraine

Young artists often feel their creativity is on hold and if they produce something it should at least benefit their country or be sold for a good cause. All over the city there are solidarity initiatives working for Ukraine’s survival and victory. For example, Grisha from Irpin says: “We want to stay in our city and rebuild it, even though much has been destroyed; and the memories of the first weeks of the war will remain.”

Grisha (left) and Borys, two best friends, swim at a lake near Irpin

  • Best friends, Grisha (left) and Borys, swim at a lake near Irpin. Grisha left Irpin half an hour before the Russians captured the street where he lived with his family

Even a well-known alternative techno club is raising money for anti-tank guns; it is clear to everyone that they can only celebrate again when they have made it together. Artem, a staff member at the club, says: “It’s not the time for rave parties like we used to have. Our soldiers die every day for the freedom of Ukraine. Kyiv and its rave parties were once on the way to becoming the new Berlin; that’s just something that isn’t important anymore.”

Young skateboarders practice the Kiev Opera House.

The residents of the city celebrate Ukrainian culture, dress and music whenever possible and appropriate. They fear that Russia’s long-term plan is to deny Ukraine’s independence by destroying indigenous traditions and culture. For example, Ksenia says: “It is more important than ever to keep Ukrainian culture alive; For this reason, I joined a dance group celebrating the anniversary of Kyiv.”

A lake between Irpin and Bucha is a favorite bathing spot for the youth of Kyiv

A lot of clean-up work has been done by volunteers in the Kyiv suburbs, but reconstruction will take a long time, as will the processing of many traumas.

Many residential buildings in Bodoryanka were completely destroyed.

For young people there are many different levels at which war affects them emotionally. You cannot escape the seriousness of the situation, which is currently unique in Europe. The war has had devastating effects on Dymitry. “I call my grandfather every day. He lives near Kramatorsk and has a farm there. He already had two Russian missiles in his backyard. Still, he wants to stay and support the Ukrainian military as best he can with food, water, gas, anything he can. He could die any day and I’m very afraid of it.”

On the left, fans wait for the next band at a progressive rock concert. That’s right, musicians jam at an arts and culture center
On the left, fans wait for the next band at a progressive rock concert. That’s right, musicians jam at an arts and culture center

Air raids have been part of everyday life in the city for months, as has the burial of fallen soldiers in the cemeteries. And making long-term plans is impossible for most. After months of psychological stress, many young residents of the city are looking for brief moments of distraction, brief normality and security in a country in which there will probably be no definitive security for months. For example, Dimar says: “We usually check the news in Telegram groups and other social media every hour, we cannot detach ourselves from the fate of our country.”

Dimar & Cathy in their apartment in western Kyiv.
A wrecked car near the city of Makariv
An improvised checkpoint near Hostomel

  • Top, Dimar and Cathy in their apartment in western Kyiv. Above left a wrecked car near Makariv. Above right, an improvised checkpoint near Hostomel in Kyiv Oblast. Many checkpoints have been unmanned since the Russian army left, but people are ready to ramp up defenses at any moment

In her shattered emotional world, gratitude for help from abroad is mixed with the feeling that some countries simply don’t have enough help. Townsman Georgi says: “Our soldiers have to fight against 10 with an artillery weapon. How can they win this war in the long term? help must come from outside; Ukraine cannot organize this alone.

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