In recent years, the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has become famed for its underground rave scene. Following the revolution, which brought about the closure of most commercial clubs, DIY parties started springing up all over the city, in disused factories, office blocks, and skate parks. Now, Cxema rave, Closer club, and Strichka festival are known well beyond Ukraine. But the new wave of Kyiv nightlife has always been about something much bigger than just music and hedonism — it’s about the identity and freedom which the new generation has chosen for themselves. The queer rave VESELKA is part of this young tradition, pushing the boundaries of the scene through its celebration of Ukraine’s LGBTQ community.
“You can experience life fully only when you’re completely free. That’s why the main ethos of VESELKA is freedom in all its expressions. You can dance, take your clothes off, stare — do whatever you desire, as long as you’re respectful of other people,” says Stas Tweeman, musician and founder of VESELKA.
The first VESELKA (Ukrainian for “rainbow”) took place in December 2018, when Tweeman met his “partner in crime” Denis Pinchuk. Today, the VESELKA community also includes stylist and designer Valentin Bren, film director Alan Badoev, photographer Dmitriy Komissarenko, media professionals Andrey Siguntsov and Maya Baklanova, and project manager Alexander Maydeex.
VESELKA takes place once every few months at Otel club. “It is spontaneous, playful, and rough, sexy and unruly, unbelievably beautiful and melodic, like a wild flower hidden in the depth of the woods away from unwanted eyes, [where one can] feel completely safe,” says Tweeman. “Otel as a venue evokes these kinds of emotions: it’s not our permanent location, but we’re comfortable there for now.”
“The main thing we value is the people. Our audience is very diverse, but united by their yearning for freedom. There are ravers, music geeks, freaks, the queer community, and everyone else who wants to express themselves. I think the main thing which VESELKA provides is the feeling that you’re not going to be judged. If you’d like to meet people, have sex, or just dance without being disturbed — you’re free to do all of those things.”
The burgeoning rave scene in Kyiv is becoming increasingly open-minded, but VESELKA is the first large-scale night dedicated to the queer community, and it’s very much needed. “You can see more and more LGBTQ+ people at raves and clubs in Kyiv,” says Tweeman
. “At renowned nights like Rhythm Buro and Cxema, and festivals like Strichka and Brave! Factory, you can meet guys in leather harnesses, chains, and heels, and no one points fingers at them anymore. But the values of acceptance and safety are the true priority at VESELKA, which makes it unique.”
The next VESELKA is happening tonight, kicking off Pride Week in Kyiv. For Tweeman, queer parties are important for the LGBTQ community as part of the process of changing perceptions in Ukraine. “The queer community were pioneers in creating club spaces originally, but in the post-Soviet space this history has for some reason been forgotten,” he says. “The world is becoming more globalised, and people travel to Europe for the weekend now to see different ways in which club culture manifests itself. Parties like VESELKA are essential within this shift in mentality. They give you the opportunity to speak about something which is important to you, express yourself through dance, clothes or lack of thereof, while surrounded by like-minded people who value freedom — just like you.”