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Nurturing Musical Journey in the Face of War: Personal Experiences of Ukrainian DJs

By: Kristina Kirkliauskaite

ALIS. Photo by: Vlad Solovov

Kristina Kirkliauskaite speaks with four Ukrainian artists who now live and foster their music careers in Berlin.

The world counts one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One year that takes forever for Ukrainians and their supporters. For some Ukrainian DJs, the war became an anger-fear-desperation-forced decision to move out of their motherland and land in Berlin – not only changing their life but also shaping a new perspective on their musical journey.

In this interview, we share thoughts of ALIS, Cheka, Ruslan Mays and Travis – originating DJs from Kyiv, Zaporizhzhya, Odessa – who now live and foster their music careers in Berlin.

The vibrant rave scene in Ukraine

Born in different cities in Ukraine, they have mostly experienced Kyiv's electronic music scene, which can briefly be described as "incredible and uprising" by Cheka or "something you can be proud of if you're local" by Travis.

Before the war broke out, Kyiv was a city that didn't skimp on clubs and festivals, inviting music lovers to enjoy a complete range of electronic gigs from venues and communities like K41, Arsenal XXII, Closer, Keller, Veselka, Drift, Brave!, Otel,, ICKPA, Cxema, Strichka, Laboratorium or Rhythm Buro.

Travis. Photo: Maria Kotsar

Sharing her experience in the Kyiv rave scene, Travis mentions: "The level of quality of the raves and the clubs was always so high, so every new project that appeared was following standard, and so eventually, you have a dozen sick places and events you want to visit on any given weekend." Moreover, Ruslan adds: "Before the war, Kyiv was one of the club capitals of Europe."

Although the war is still happening, the Kyiv rave community puts possible effort into maintaining the scene.

"Many talented people play and produce in different styles, even in wartime", – says Cheka, and ALIS. highlights: "It is my dream to play in Ukraine again since before the war, its rave scene there was only thriving along with phenomenal clubs, venues and events. All of this has a special place in my heart."

Moving to Berlin after the life-changing morning

The early morning of February 24th was a tragic turning point for everyone in Ukraine and their friends or family outside the country. While ALIS. has been living in Berlin since 2015, Ruslan, Cheka and Travis moved here during the first week of the war. They all share what went through their minds and hearts that fateful morning.

ALIS. Photo: Lera Skribchenko

"I was embraced by the paralyzing mixture of fear, anger and desperation. Imagine your biggest fears come true. You just couldn't stop thinking of all the worst-case scenarios. And every time I texted my parents and friends, "I hope to see you soon again", I fell into long, deep and brutal mental breakdowns. I couldn't properly eat or sleep and stay on my own for like a week or two, so I spent this time at my friends' places on their couches. I needed someone to calm me down," – says ALIS.

Travis also comments: "Berlin was not my first choice of city to move to, but now it feels like the only logical choice for me. I was lost and confused. I was feeling very sorry about what was going on and also angry and disappointed. And I was watching our people hating each other over one person being able to leave and another person not being able to or choosing to stay."

Further, Cheka adds: "I was lost and didn't understand what I was supposed to do next. All plans built before just turned into dust for one apparent reason. Moving to Berlin was one of the most serious and fastest decisions I ever made. It's horrifying to leave your motherland, your family and your fri