DJ sets and debris: Volunteers hold cleanup ‘raves’ to rebuild Ukraine

A group of volunteers gathered in the northern Ukrainian village of Yahidne on July 23 to clean up damaged buildings while dancing to techno music.
A group of volunteers gathered in the northern Ukrainian village of Yahidne on July 23 to clean up damaged buildings while dancing to techno music. © Pasha Youz

With electronic beats blaring in the background, volunteers sweep, scrub and haul debris. It’s not a typical techno party activity, but for young people in Ukraine, it’s a compromise between summer music festivals and the massive rebuilding effort taking place. Our Observer, one of the volunteers organising the “rave cleanups”, explained that it’s a way to keep volunteers motivated and inspired during the long cleanup process.

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A group of young Ukrainians have built a team of volunteers to repair homes, clean up bombed buildings and help bring some joy back to the people of Ukraine – all while dancing to techno beats. If war hadn’t broken out when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, these volunteers might be enjoying summer music festivals. Instead, they are mobilised to help the cleanup effort in towns devastated by bombing and violence.

Repair Together was formed by a group of friends who began organising cleanup events, transporting volunteers from Kyiv to needy areas in the northern Chernihiv region. Chernihiv was the site of fierce Russian attacks after troops began invading Ukraine on February 24. By the time the Russians withdrew in early April, many homes and buildings had been destroyed by weeks of bombing. 

After holding several events to clean and rebuild buildings in the Chernihiv area, volunteers from Repair Together organised a rave party on July 23 in the town of Yahidne, attracting more than 200 volunteers. Many of them came from Kyiv, but people from the United States, Germany and other countries were also there to help. 

As a DJ played nearby, the volunteers worked to clean up the site of the town’s cultural centre. 

‘People who join us once to volunteer will come again and again, they won’t be tired'

Tetiana Burianova is one of the creators of Repair Together. She told the FRANCE 24 Observers team how the “rave cleanups” came to be.

The first time we did it, it was just for our friends, we didn’t even announce it. Then, we saw a lot of locals come to us and join us cleaning. They enjoyed the atmosphere, the music and they asked for more and thanked us for the experience. Then we organised a second event for all our volunteers and a lot of journalists came as well.

Parties and techno and raves were a big part of our life before. And now it’s impossible – volunteering is our lifestyle. All we can do is help people in Ukraine and support each other. So we mix the things we like with volunteering. All the time, we are organising concerts for locals and volunteers. We have stand-up shows as well as music. People who join us once to volunteer will come again and again, they won’t be tired. They want to do more because we are doing a great job together in a good atmosphere with nice music. It’s inspiring to us and we enjoy what we do. 

@hannaexpl What a great initiative by Repair.together (check their inst), was so glad to play my dj set for these wonderful people #fyp #ukraine #ukrainewar #славаукраїні ♬ original sound - Hanna

Videos of the event show young people dancing to the music and enjoying beer and food in the remains of Yahidne’s cultural centre, destroyed by Russian attacks. But amid the festivities, they are also stacking bricks, shovelling rubble and clearing out debris.

The event captured international attention, and they’ve since conducted two more cleanups and started planning the next rave party, to be held in late August. The group has organised eight cleanups so far, allowing them to clear debris from 12 homes in the Chernihiv region. They are now hoping to start rebuilding those homes.

‘All of Ukraine is united to help them and hasn’t forgotten about them’

The Kyiv region had a lot of attention. But when the Russian troops left, we went to the Chernihiv region to see the situation and it was awful. People lost their homes, they had nowhere to live. And we wanted to help those people because it’s far from Kyiv and cut off since all the bridges were destroyed. 

The attention from these parties really helps the locals. Maybe it’s not the kind of music they usually listen to, but it brings a psychological help to know that all of Ukraine is united to help them and hasn’t forgotten about them. And of course, some grannies in the villages don’t like the music, but young people like it very much.