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Daria Kryzh, co-founder of Squat 17b

"Squat 17b was founded on the New Years Night of 2006 to 2007. After realizing that he didn’t want to live in an apartment with his parents, Myroslav, my husband, settled in a squat at 17B Tereshchenkivska Street. He didn’t want to live in a rented apartment, in a place where it is impossible to paint the walls the way you want. He wanted a different life. This is an alternative type of squatting. First, you unofficially take over the premises, then the owner appears, and you either manage to negotiate with him or not. If you have agreed with the owner officially and paid the rent, it's called, I don't really like the term, but it's called anti-squatting because you're already a person who is legally here. You become a person who occupies the premises under an agreement with the owner for money or not for money. You can just take care of the room, but that's another level, and out of this forms a hub, and then landlording, like in Copenhagen in Christiania, when the guys finally buy the space and become landlords. Sometimes squats appear and disappear in six months due to the lack of electricity or other resources, but sometimes they live like us, for more than 15 years.

Squatting as a phenomenon appeared in the '60s when people returned home from war, and their homes were bombed or destroyed.

It is called forced squatting when buildings are occupied because there is no other option. And in the 1960s, with the beginning of anti-globalization movements, the world began to change. People proclaimed: "We are against the war in Vietnam, we are against capitalism."

"These were autonomous movements which united and acted according to their preferences and beliefs to express their position - we do not want to live according to the rules imposed by the society." Compared to Europe and America, where it was a form of opposition and confrontation, the reason in the whole post-Soviet space was quite different – communal enterprises in the '90s could not cope with the number of abandoned and disused houses. Creative youth took these vacant spaces to set up creative workshops there.

Thus arose the squat on Olehivska, the association "Parkomuna," "from which the artistic creative squatting began, where young Golosiy, Hnylytsky, Savadov, Senchenko lived.

All their works today represent Ukraine in the world, at the Biennale, but they came out of squatting. There, artists had the opportunity to create and work together, have parties, meet each other and experience the world. And all of this happened in a shared space. It was a bohemia that presented itself to the world, opposed the world, helped others, and looked at the Soviet reality from a different perspective, non-trivial, non-Soviet.

If we consider the typology of squatting, Squat 17b transformed into a socio-cultural one. As an alternative cultural cluster, a bar or movie club may appear based on a commune or a squat. People need to exist to be beneficial to society. We have never had a creative commune, no workshops. Individual residents engaged in art, but they did not hold exhibitions or large-scale events out of caution to attract attention. Our first art project was "A House Without Borders" - we just painted the walls of an abandoned house. Then we started making photo exhibitions, and the walls of the building, where we live now, were used as a gallery space. We stretched huge fishing nets and hung photos from our travels across India, making it an info story. Then it started attracting people's attention.

When you realize that you have a space that you can use to communicate with the city, you start doing valuable things.

Living in a squat with a common coliving is an endless stream of new people. Every day guests visit the residents or come to live for a while. In the morning, you go out into the yard, and there someone, who returned from a trip around the globe, is telling his stories, or a traveling musician is performing. You wake up, write to one of the co-residents: "Do you want to drink some tea? Coffee? ” We had separate rooms, which we called the 42nd apartment, 8th, zero, or Mitia’s. I remember we had one washing machine for two apartments, and a neighbor came with a box of his clothes to do his laundry. Sometimes it was an almost family relationship when Hryts, a very close friend of mine, wrote to me: "Dasha, I'm on set, can you please hang my things?" Of course, not a problem at all. There was a moment when our girls got tired of cooking on an uncomfortable stove, so the boys collected money and went to buy a better one. We constantly celebrated Halloween and the New Year jointly. To me, it seemed to be a friendly student dormitory, where all the people were involved in cool projects: advertising, casting, some worked in production, others drew or studied philosophy, some worked in IT, others braided dreadlocks, someone had his hairdressing salon. One day my friend and co-resident called me with the words: "Here we have 20 meters of lawn from our shooting. I'll bring it now. You can pick it up and lay it out in our yard."

Before meeting Squat17b and my future husband Myroslav, I studied at the graduate school of the Shevchenko Institute of Philology (everyone knows it as the yellow building), taught Turkish language and literature there, went to work, and sometimes met friends. This pattern always ends the same way: on Friday-Saturday, you see someone, but they are always the same people. And I was normal and conventional. I knew that there was a place where parties and movie screenings took place, that it was like an apartment but not a flat, something like a commune. But this culture of coliving was unfamiliar to me. I just knew that there was such a guy, Miroslav. He had friends, they lived there, and something was constantly happening at their place. Before I joined in 2012, I was only interested in my dissertation, graduate school, students, and teaching. I did not know anything about the cultural life of Kyiv. I was torn off. I spent my whole conscious life in Kyiv in two parts of the city where my family lived: on Predslavynska Street, my parents' street behind the Palace of Ukraine, and next to the Salyut Hotel behind Kyivmiskbud, where my grandparents lived. I often walked around the Park of Glory, the Lavra Gallery, the Mystetskyi Arsenal, and the Spivoche Pole. Until the age of 17, I did not know what was behind Lybidska, for example.

For me, Kyiv is, as strange as it may sound, pedestrian because I walk a lot on foot.

Now is my favorite time of the year. Kyiv smells of autumn, the sun warms the leaves, and the air smells of chestnuts. Autumn in Kyiv is the smell of leaves and fruits and, I think, sometimes smoke, the scent of a frosty morning. It is a city I will probably never leave, I love it very much, and I love the people of Kyiv too. I love seeing the people on the streets, how they occupy the city, how their presence makes the city whole. I like wild grapes. They can be found all around the city called Virginia Creeper, a climbing grape, which doesn’t smell. There is a period in the town when autumn is already coloring the leaves from green to red, and these berries appear and begin to fall, and pigeons eat them, trample on the roofs, trample everywhere, they spread all the berries, and everything is red and purple. I really like it.

I started writing a book about Kyiv squats. The book will be called “Shaky Balance”.

I am already working on finding a publisher who could help me bring the book to life. I already have an illustrator. I understand that by writing a book, I can better convey my information. Previously, I used to lead excursions around Kyiv squats, and I have researched the topic a lot, but at some point, I understood that this consumes too much of my resources.

In 2014, we were supposed to close the Squat because the owner allegedly sold the house, but he changed his mind at the last minute and continued to rent it out to us. This was the turning point from which our active work began. We opened a cafe in the yard, got the support of our friends, various foreign media outlets wrote about us, and the flow of tourists began. We also rented our building for five years but then learned a tool in Kyiv - Prozorro.Sales - people who created an orderly mechanism for renting out state property through auctions. It means the ordinary residents of the city are given the opportunity to participate in various processes officially. We won the auction, signed a contract for five years. In Kyiv, where there are many developers, many conflicts of interest, our case is unique because we have been here for many years, and we are the only ones who more or less understood how this space could work. This year we opened a bar here, and now we can work in the warm season and the cold.

Artists and musicians constantly come to us searching for premises for their workshops. And they ask us, do you have anything here? It is the easy way - to go to someone who has already made it, and the complicated way is to find a room, go to the municipality, submit your project, submit and tell, constantly defend your idea of how this space could be used. It is a real struggle. Your ideals run into a faceless bureaucratic machine.

The city has potential because after the Maidan, and with the appearance of various activists and movements, people started defending their right to the city.

It seems that this movement will cease to be chaotic in some time. It may become concentrated and focused. Now there is a community with representatives who can consult - here is a space, cadastral register, for example, there is an owner. Still, the owner doesn’t look after the space for 20 years. No one uses it. It just rots, and so let us somehow agree that we will rent this room?

I'm moving now in the direction of consulting and studying at “Urbanina” from the “Agents of Change”. I want to get a second degree and to consult. I have practical experience, but I still lack theory. I believe there must be a different approach: there must be a representative of the creative sector who can fill the available space with meaning, and there must be someone who can defend the rights of the creative sector. You have to take a person and guide them through all the literal and metaphorical corridors and iterations of all the approaches, like weightlifting sets. Once you try lifting the weight for the first time – you may fail, the second time – you fail, but after a hundred sets – you can raise your wished hundred kilograms.”

Daria Kryzh, co-founder of Squat 17b

This story came out in collaboration with the podcast "Kyiv wide open" and its author Yana Lyushnevskaya. In addition to the usual text format, you can now listen to our joint interview about the squat with Dasha Cross on podcast channels.


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