Dancing the Pain Away

Photo: Alexander Piguz  Former DJ for PRIZMA, a group that organises raves in the Donbass region

The youth in the Donbass region, in eastern Ukraine, have nothing to wake up for in the morning, so they decided not to go to sleep. 

In a region plagued by death, decay and destruction, lies a secret community that has found a sense of comfort and purpose through dancing to loud, fast, techno and electronic music.

The Donbass region, on the Eastern edge of Ukraine, encompasses the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces where a bloody war has been raging since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists took control of the area.

The conflict has claimed over 10, 000 lives so far, with 2, 000 of these people being civilians. There are currently 1.7 million internally displaced Ukrainian citizens that have been forced to flee their homes and become refugees within their own country due to the conflict.

However, the fight isn’t just occurring on the front line. The young people of Ukraine are struggling to stay afloat in their own country amid war, a failing economy and unstable political landscape.

Unemployment is on the rise, with figures showing that it has increased from 6.4 percent in 2007 to 9 percent by 2017. This growing rate can be linked back to 2014 when Russia took control of Crimea and when pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was driven out of office.

Russia was once a significant import and export partner to Ukraine; however, this is no longer the case, due to the conflict. These factors resulted in Ukraine’s economy crumbling with the depletion of the country’s GDP.


Photo: Statista This table represents the unemployment rate in Ukraine from 2007 to 2017. In 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea there was sharp spike from 7.2 percent to 9.3 percent of the labour force being unemployed.

A Rave in a War Zone

Evidently, young people are left with nothing to wake up for in the morning as they struggle to find work amid the political and economic crisis, so they decided to put off going to sleep. This is how Prizma was born.

The organisers of Prizma explain that it started off as a party among friends but rapidly gained momentum, becoming a rather famous techno place in Donetsk.

“The project was launched in 2016, when we realized that the city did not have electronic music and such a party as we would like. We decided to take the initiative into our own hands,” they said.

The group faced the same setbacks that most other event planners face such, as the need for an isolated location that could house their musicians,  equipment and all of the young people looking to party. But these problems appeared to be small compared to the hostilities that surround them.

Alexander Piguz, former DJ and graphic designer for Prizma explains, “I guess Prizma was an instrument of providing a neo-rave culture and a place where you can forget about all that military conflict, like death of relatives and low income.”

The parties are the pushback of the young people of the Donbass region to the civil war, as they were deprived of any youth activities in their local cities.

Although hosting a rave amidst a rebel state is no easy task. The government is tolerant but not accepting of these parties as they are seen to promote the images of drugs and booze.

“It is pretty real and scary in a state ruled not by law, but power,” he says.

Another issue that Prizma was faced with was blackout hours-the type of curfew that the party goers must comply with to stay safe. Where most normal parties wouldn’t begin until 11pm, this is when Prizma’s raves usually finish.

“There are some problems with hosting parties like that because of blackout hours when you can’t even visit a supermarket. You know, that means that if you will be spotted on the streets after 11pm, that means direct danger for you and your health.”

Piguz explains that Prizma had never faced a police raid until the 6th of April, where the party was shutdown after 30 minutes and the building was searched for drugs. Alexander, along with some of his friends were arrested for violating curfew but were released the following day.

The Prizma team commented on this, saying, “The police came to the rave and searched for drugs, but this was not directed against the rave, but against the criminals. While we execute the law, they do not touch us.”

The young people attending these parities continue dancing, with Prizma appearing to have a significant impact on the mental health of the young community living in this area as they attempt to grapple with the severity of their situation.

The Prizma team explain, “A rave in any country is escapism, it is a departure from reality and everyday life, in Donetsk the situation is the same.

“A huge number of young people met and became friends at our parties, sometimes the connections that are built in this way cause us surprise.”

The raves are a place for people of all backgrounds and situations to come together to bond over the two things they have in common, a love for electronic music and the fact that they are currently living amidst a war zone.

For Alexander Piguz, Prizma is a place for people to chill out, “It’s like a working vehicle engine! That sound and movement…like moving pistons in an engine.”