Inside HOROVOD, the festival uniting Russia and Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ youth through the power of raving

2 September 2021

Club culture was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. And with opportunities to gather limited, it soon became clear that for many, raves were about far more than entertainment, with young people from otherwise conservative countries craving the deeper social meaning that came with the dancefloor.

Both Popoff Kitchen in Russia and Veselka in Ukraine use raves to create safe, joyful, and celebratory spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. Now they’re uniting to bring their audience together beyond borders and politics with the HOROVOD festival in Moscow.

In Russian, a horovod is a traditional Slavic circle dance. While the dance itself dates back over a thousand years, many young people from across eastern Europe will have done the dance as children. “We were thinking of things that Ukrainian and Russian culture have in common, and I got to the name HOROVOD, the dance of joy and union of strangers,” remembers Nikita Egorov-Kirillov, the founder of Popoff Kitchen.

HOROVOD’s mission is to unite queer music and art from both countries, create safer spaces for our audience, and provide a platform for talent from the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. We want to create a space filled with empathy, sexuality, and the freedom to be your real self, even for 33 hours,” he adds. “The political tension between Russian and Ukraine didn’t change a thing in our message and mission, it just made bringing Ukrainian artists [to Russia] much more complex.”

Ties between Ukraine and Russia soured in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukraine peninsula of Crimea. The Russian government went on to throw its backing behind separatists in eastern Ukraine, tanking bilateral relations and prompting tighter travel restrictions between the two countries. Now, Ukrainian artists visiting Russia need to provide paperwork which justifies their visit — a process which is both expensive and complicated.

The idea for HOROVOD emerged alongside the broader collaboration and friendship between Egorov-Kirillov and Stas Tweeman, the founder of Veselka. The pair met when Veselka held a showcase in Moscow, and together decided to host HOROVOD at one of the city’s key rave venues, Mutabor. The team held the first edition of the festival in September 2020 and another in May 2021. But it’s HOROVOD’s next edition on 4-6 September 2021, held just as the world shakes off the throws of Covid-19, that feels extra special for the community.

HOROVOD started as a collaboration between Popoff Kitchen, Veselka, and Mutabor, all open-minded communities spreading love, peace, and freedom through music, dance, and self-expression. In the beginning, it was between Russia and Ukraine but now we’re involving artists from Germany, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia,” says Veselka founder Stas Tweeman. “Club spaces are about building unity offline. During the pandemic, I was really frustrated trying to sublimate my passion for nightlife into online streamings, reading, researching, podcasting —it all makes no sense without the energy that you get when people gather in real life.”

Egorov-Kirillov agrees. “On the dancefloor, the LGBTQ+ community can connect on a deeper level, to share, express, feel, touch, explore, and find our chosen family,” he says. “Queer club spaces are safer spaces where we can be who we truly are.”

But the dance floor is just the first step. The organisers of HOROVOD also share hopes for the future generally — including more acceptance, freedom of expression, and Pride on the streets of both Moscow and Kyiv. “I want for queer people to feel free and safe. I want them to be themselves, and for other people to accept it as something natural,” Tweeman adds. “I want to see Pride on the streets celebrating freedom, with acceptance in the eyes of all people — even if you are LGBTQ+. Only then can we say we are living in a modern society in the 21st century.”

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