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via Instagram (@repairtogether)

Ukraine’s clean-up ravers are just getting started

Volunteers in Ukraine are organising raves which gather young people together to help clear debris from damaged buildings

On a warm day in late July, hundreds of young people descended on the village of Yahidne. Adorned with bucket hats and bum bags, they had come to hear techno DJ Oleksandr Buchinskiy, his decks mounted on a stack of ammunition boxes, and dance among the debris.

Some had come all the way from Germany, Portugal, and the US – others had driven over from Chernihiv, Lviv, and Kyiv. They danced together for a while, then picked up their shovels and continued shifting rubble into wheelbarrows and plastic bags, clearing away the remnants of a village cultural centre that was destroyed by Russian bombing in March.

The 200 young people who travelled to Yahidne went as part of a nationwide mission to clean up and rebuild Ukrainian towns, while reviving the nation’s vibrant club scene in the process. These ‘clean-up raves’ have been organised by Repair Together, an organisation made up of mostly Ukrainian volunteers.

“Volunteering is my lifestyle now,” Tania Burianova, a 26-year-old Repair Together organiser, told AP last month. "I like electronic music and I used to party. But now it’s wartime and we want to help, and we’re doing it with music.” DJ Buchinskiy added: “these are all young people that still have a passion for life, but they feel pain and are very sad and angry because of the war, but they feel a need to take part in this historical moment, and help people, and make Ukraine a better place with a smile on their faces."

Repair Together have made international headlines for their innovative combination of raving and volunteer work, but initially, organisers started off by cleaning up debris without music. Speaking to Dazed, clean up raver Marina Grebinna explains that their first ever job in Yahidne was tackled with just 50 volunteers. “We saw that this was really valuable work and decided to do it on a regular basis,” she says. “Then after a few ‘classic’ clean-ups, we decided to put on a rave event to draw more attention to this problem.”

“Some of the members of our team DJed at parties before the war and they knew how to [pull it off],” she explains. “Initially, we were not totally sure [if it would work] because these were happening in places where people had died. But it was a good way to involve a lot of people, and we really wanted to make volunteering seem like a lifestyle choice.”

Since then, Repair Together completed eight projects. “It is inspiring,” Marina says. “Now, after three months of work on this project, we see a lot of familiar faces. A lot of people do it on a regular basis now.”

“The work we do is really valuable in a psychological way, because when people come and help the locals, they feel like they’re not alone” – Marina Grebinna

She adds that there’s a real sense of community – not only among the raver-volunteers, but also with the residents of these villages. “The work we do is really valuable in a psychological way,” she continues. “Because when people come and help the locals, they feel like they’re not alone. A lot of volunteers still keep in touch with the owners of the houses that were destroyed and help them find things that they need.”

Now, Repair Together are in the process of planning future action in the nearby town of Lukashivka, where they plan to build 12 houses for people who've lost their homes in the war, and other clean-ups in the Chernihiv region. “Winter is coming and Ukrainian winters are really cold,” she explains. “We have a plan to build some houses for people left without homes. This week, we started construction.”

One thing is clear – there’s no sign of them stopping. “We really believe we could do this on a much, much bigger scale, for the whole of Ukraine,” Marina adds. “Or even for the whole world.”