IIn Kyiv, restaurants and cafes are open and some cultural venues have reopened to visitors. But Russian missiles recently hit the Ukrainian capital. Photographer Fabian Ritter, from the German collective DOCKS, spent three weeks with young people from the city to get to know their eyes and document their new daily life, as they grow up and find their identity, while facing Russian aggression.
Of course, no one is really in the mood to party: almost every young person knows someone who is fighting or is affected by war. Many have family members in more dangerous areas who often don’t want to leave their homes. And every day the media presents new media coverage of the invasion. Even though Kyiv can sometimes evoke a past normality, the threat of Russian missiles is never far away.
Meanwhile, more than 100 soldiers die every day on the front lines; and the Russian military appears to increasingly attack civilian targets, including residential buildings and shopping malls.
The young people of the capital try to support their country of origin as much as possible: volunteering, collecting and sorting donations, activism and raising awareness on social networks.
No one knows yet what the future holds for them. But amid all the uncertainty, many are optimistic that the Ukrainian army will win.
Sasha, a future student who lived for weeks under Russian occupation during the first weeks of the war, tells how absurd it is to send applications for a job and a university, even if the future at long term cannot be foreseen at all: “The phase of danger and uncertainty during the occupation in Kyiv oblast is still very near for me. It was a time without electricity, without running water, without connection Internet and without the certainty that friends and family would survive. Now making plans in a safer situation, for a long-term future when it was all about survival in the days of occupation, is such a big difference in perspective that it is difficult to manage.
Singer of the group Skinkedy, Nick reports that he has deleted all his songs in Russian, he only wants to sing in Ukrainian: “My main objective is to prevent the disappearance of our language, our music and our culture.”
Many young people talk about the difficulties they face in finding new jobs to replace those they lost at the start of the war. Anton says: “There really isn’t an entertainment industry anymore, where I’ve been working for the past few years. I now spend my days volunteering, but I don’t know what will make me money in the long run.
Young artists often feel like their creativity has been put on the backburner and if they produce something it should at least be useful to their country or sold for a good cause. Throughout the city, there are solidarity initiatives committed to working for the survival and victory of Ukraine. For example, Grisha d’Irpin says: “We want to stay in our city and rebuild it, even if a lot is destroyed; and the memories of the first weeks of war will remain.
Even a well-known alternative techno club raises money for anti-tank guns; it is clear to everyone that they will only be able to celebrate again when they have done so together. Artem, a staff member of the club, says: “Now is not the time for rave parties, like we had before. Our soldiers are dying every day for the freedom of Ukraine. Kyiv and its rave parties were once on the not to be seen as the new Berlin; it’s just something that doesn’t matter anymore.
The townspeople celebrate Ukrainian culture, clothing and music whenever possible and appropriate. They fear that Russia’s long-term plan is to deny Ukraine’s independence by destroying local traditions and culture. For example, Ksenia says, “It is more important than ever to keep Ukrainian culture alive; that’s why I joined a dance group celebrating Kyiv’s birthday.
On the outskirts of Kyiv, a lot of cleaning work has been done by volunteers, but the reconstruction will take a long time, as will the treatment of many traumas.
For young people, there are many different levels of how war continues to affect them emotionally. They cannot avoid the gravity of the situation, which is unlike any other in Europe at the moment. For Dymitry, war has a devastating effect. “I call my grandfather every day. He lives near Kramatorsk and owns a farm there. He already had two Russian missiles in his garden. Yet he wants to stay and support the Ukrainian army as best he can with food, water, gas, whatever he can sustain. He could die any day and I’m very afraid.
For months, air raids have been part of the city’s daily life, as has the burial of fallen soldiers in cemeteries. And having long-term plans is impossible for most. After months of mental stress, many of the city’s young residents are looking for short moments of distraction, brief normalcy and security, in a country where there will likely be no definitive security for months to come. For example, Dimar says, “We usually check the news in Telegram groups and other social media every hour, we can’t detach ourselves from the fate of our country.
In their shaken emotional world, gratitude for help from abroad mingles with the feeling that there just isn’t enough help coming from some countries. Townsman Georgi says, “Our soldiers have to fight with one artillery weapon against 10. How can they win this war in the long run? Help must come from outside; Ukraine cannot organize this alone.