Photography Lesha Berezovskiy

8 artists shaping Kyiv’s creative scene

The Ukrainian capital's appeal goes way beyond its clubs. We meet some of the models, musicians, tattooists and makeup artists at the scene's heart.

by Juule Kay
18 October 2021, 9:41am

Photography Lesha Berezovskiy

People love to label things, defining something by making comparisons to another thing that feels more familiar – but society isn’t ever that simple. The moment you think you’ve got it all figured out, it throws another surprise at you. This is true when it comes to Kyiv. Frequently referred to as “the new Berlin” for its affordability and underground nightlife (we already filled you in on the raves at infamous club ∄), its cool, new reputation is bolstered by a burgeoning and too-often overlooked creative scene. It’s one you have to experience yourself to fully grasp the beauty of. A good place to start? The hidden back streets where the real gems lie, like Stroom Kyiv, one of the coolest tattoo studios in town. It’s there and within the sacred roster of Standard Deviation (an impossibly cool multidisciplinary label for music, art and publishing) that we came across many of the artists depicted here.

“Everyone is able to find something that resonates with them in Kyiv, whether it’s culture, people, architecture or parties,” says Rina Priduvalova, a local artist with the aforementioned label who wants everyone to know that Kyiv is more than just one thing. It is, she confirms, a fearless city bubbling with ideas and new talent waiting to be discovered. With the new festival Kyiv Art & Fashion Days taking place for the first time this month, it’s clear that the city’s rich creative scene is on the brink of receiving the real attention it deserves.

We caught up with eight creatives to explore first-hand what makes the city different from the rest of the world.

a woman with an afro, pale pink cords and a bomber jacket sits on some outside steps

Dzhoana, 19, model 

Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been modelling for two and a half years now. At the moment, I'm trying to pursue this, but it's not a full-time thing for me. I want to have my own business one day, connected to Ukrainian culture. 

What do you want the world to know about your city?
That people in Kyiv are very open and interesting. 

What's the best thing about being young in Kyiv today?
We don't have so many restrictions and limits like our parents or previous generations did. We have more opportunities. 

And how would you describe your generation in one word?

two women wearing leather jackets sit in a dark room by a window, light shines on their faces

Diana Azzuz, 29 and Rina Priduvalova, 24, multidisciplinary artists 

How did you guys meet? 
Rina: We were at the same party and met through a mutual friend. He was like ‘You have to check out her Instagram, she's doing amazing stuff’ and Diana was super embarrassed. I was already making music, but I was starting to feel like doing more…

Diana: She actually asked me to make cover artwork and then a couple of days later she was like, why aren't we doing a video? 

Rina: Our first work was my track with Diana's visual and emotional response to it. 

You're part of Standard Deviation, a label for music, art and publishing connected to infamous club ∄. What makes this project so special?
D: The label wants to make Kyiv’s scene evolve. They gave us freedom to do what we want to do. For us it meant a lot; it kicked things off. 

R: Their approach is very selfless. You feel the support because they believe in you and in the fact that you create something good, which is something you're not even always sure of yourself. Standard Deviation is not afraid of failure, it’s not even an option.

How would you describe the creative scene in Kyiv?
R: People are very hungry for new experiences and everyone is trying to express themselves in a fearless way. 

D: The scene is fresh, but the main problem for Ukraine is that it's not institutionalised like in Western countries. Being an artist in Kyiv, being an artist in general, is a struggle, but here one of the main reasons is that we don't have institutions and funds that support artists.

What do you want people to know about the city?
D: There are a lot of things to explore. A lot of foreigners are attracted by the Post-Soviet aesthetics, others come to visit the club. Kyiv is more than just one thing to be remembered for. 

R: Everyone is able to find something that resonates with them whether it’s culture, people, architecture or parties. I don’t want to categorise the city too much, since it’s difficult to get rid of labels like Kyiv being the new Berlin.

a young man wearing a brown suede jacket and pearls looks into the camera

Akhmed, 20, model 

What's your connection to Kyiv?
I moved to Kyiv when I was three years old. Growing up on the edge of the city was kind of tough, but there is also this little piece of charm which you will never get anywhere else. I love Kyiv.

What do you love most about it?
People, first. A lot of Ukrainian people are moving here to get a better life, and foreigners are coming because it's the capital. Mixing up the Ukrainian mentality with the foreigner’s mentality becomes this yin and yang thing.

How would you describe the fashion scene here?
In Ukraine, there is a certain style not everyone will understand. There is a lot of unexplored talent right now. For example, Igvandal made these sick pants I'm wearing by upcycling some old sweaters and pants from the thrift shop.

How would you describe your generation in one word?

a woman in a large bomber jacket sits on some concrete steps with a small white poodle on her knee

Julie Poly, 35, multidisciplinary artist

Tell us a bit about your approach to photography.
I started to discover the world by taking pictures. When I was 10 years old, I attended a film and photography community for kids and was immediately drawn into it. After that, I really wanted to go to an Academy of Arts but, as usual in Ukraine, my mother told me: ‘No, the artist is always hungry'. So I went to the Academy of Railway Transport. Back then, I already felt the only thing I can do is art and photography, so I started shooting a lot. 

What makes a good photo?
Before I take a photo, I usually spend a huge amount of time preparing for it. My style developed from documentary into mockumentary; this surrealistic picture when people don't understand where reality is and where fiction is. When you’re asking yourself, ‘Is this real or not?’, I know it’s a good photo.

Your work seems to focus on the typical Ukrainian everyday life. What are your favourite things about it?
Everyday life is the same, no matter where in the world. People go to work, they have fun, they go to the market, the only difference lies in the details. For example, when I travel to Europe, every train looks the same, but the railway in Ukraine is super different, I even made a book about it. Sometimes there are red carpets in the train, or the conductor puts some flowers in the cabins. 

Do you remember the last thing that inspired you?
Probably the presentation of the second issue of my erotic art zine at Kyiv Art and Fashion Days. It’s dedicated to tattoo and body paintings, and I collaborated with super cool underground Ukrainian tattoo artists. The presentation took place in a strip club, with some performances of my pole dancer friends and tattoo artists. I can be inspired by literally everything. Real life inspires me.

a woman wearing a belted leather jacket and a grey cap stands against a concrete wall. green and yellow trees are behind her

Yulya Zalesskaya, 28, makeup artist

How would you describe your look? What makes it you?
I like to rely on intuition and dress in an expressive way. I love to “dress” people’s faces with makeup and evoke emotions, unexpected associations or reveal someone’s character. 

What was the first makeup product you bought for yourself?
It was a 12 flash colour case from Make Up For Ever. I still love that product. 

Do you have any secret or not-so-secret obsessions?
I adore these small erotic figurines and plan to collect different ones. Also, I love plush toys. In my childhood, I used to sew them with my hands.

Would you say that Kyiv inspires your work?
In general, my makeup language is not related to a country’s cultural code. But in some cases, Post-Soviet culture influences my work. For a photo project with Julie Poly, I did beauty looks based on makeup that Ukrainian women used to wear in the early 2000s, but in a more exaggerated way.

a young male model wears green cords and a gilet over a hoodie. he leans against a concrete building and looks to camera

Robe, 21, DJ and model

First things first, how did you get into music?
I bought my first computer and played a lot of games in the beginning. But at some point, I got tired of it and downloaded this application for creating music. 

How would you describe the music scene in Kyiv?
There’s a lot of techno. It's super popular, but I don't feel like other music genres are developing at the moment, which I find a bit annoying. I want to do my own thing with hip-hop and show people that there’s more than just that one thing here.

What do you like about the city?
I just moved to Kyiv a month ago. I was born in Odessa, raised in Sudan and came back to Ukraine six years ago. But I can definitely say I like the fact that every part of the city looks different and has a different vibe to it. 

What track always makes you dance?
NWA – “Fuk Da Police”.

a man wearing a hoodie with the words 'antisocial pro' stands in a scruffy courtyard with his hands behind his back, looking to camera

Dima, 25, tattoo artist

How did you get into tattooing?
In short, I’ve liked tattoos since I was 9 years old. I was watching movies and music videos and always used to put temporary tattoos all over my face. When I went to university in Barcelona, I learned graphic design and how to draw. Then I got broke and came back to Ukraine, which was a nice time to start tattooing. 

How would you describe your style?
It's dark but not gory. And it has some sort of sorrow to it, but it's not sad. 

Do you remember the first thing you ever tattooed on someone?
The first proper one with a machine, I did on my friend who was also starting to tattoo. We used to study at the same university, so he showed me the ropes. We basically exchanged shitty tattoos and met again after five years when we were proper artists. I tattooed him with three nails, two crossed ones and one vertical. The last time we talked, he said he still likes it!

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
You have to like what you’re doing every day, otherwise it won't work out. No compromises.

a woman with short blonde hair sits on a windowsil next to a painting of a person sitting nude with their legs open

Yaroslava Savvina, 28, artist

Tell us about your knitwear project, Savvina Gallery.
I started knitting in the beginning of lockdown because I was so stressed about what’s going on around me. At one point, I realised it really keeps me calm, it’s almost meditative. I can sit and work for five hours without a break. 

How would you describe your aesthetics? 
Heavily inspired by music and album covers. Knitting is a bit like a canvas, but with another structure. As I never have a plan in mind when I start making something, it’s more about what I see, what I listen to and what I’m thinking in that specific moment. 

What's the biggest challenge for young creatives today?
Money, for sure. Sometimes it's also very hard for me to understand if I'm good or if I'm bad because I can't really judge my own stuff. I’m a very picky person.

What's the best thing about Kyiv?
Friends and places and seeing how both of them grow.

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All photography Lesha Berezovskiy

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