A collage of two photos: the left picture shows a sinister hallway with green paint. The right photo shows two people chilling
Left: the long hallway in the red building of ReZavod. Right: Malek and Varvara in their room. Photos: Sofiya Loriashvili

I Spent Ten Days in an Art-Space-Turned-Refuge in Ukraine

To some, this place is a choice–to others, it's the only option.

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

I’m a 22-year-old French-Ukrainian photographer – born in Kyiv and based in Paris. Every August, I go through the same ritual: I pack my suitcase, spend three hours on a plane, and then I’m home. But this year was a little different: There were no planes to Ukraine. The only option to go home was taking a bus with stopovers in bordering countries, and it was incredibly hard to secure a spot. It seemed like everyone was trying to do the same thing - go home, see family and look for loved ones who’d stayed behind.


I called some friends and one of them gave me the number of a Ukrainian minibus driver who found a spot for me. These drivers typically hang out under the Bir-Hakeim bridge in Paris on the weekends to drive people to Ukraine, drop off packages and sell Ukrainian products. Since the beginning of the war, they’ve become a lifeline for many separated families.

A collage of two photos, the one on the left shows the inside of a minibus with random objects such as a pen and tissues. The picture on the right shows an orange building with a lot of windows

Left: In the minibus from Paris to Lviv. Right: The entry to ReZavod. Photos: Sofiya Loriashvili

On the 7th of August, I took the minibus with three other passengers and two drivers - there were no windows, but luckily I slept through the drive.

Just over 24 hours later, I finally arrived in Lviv where I met up with Malek - a friend I met in Kyiv, in 2021 - and his girlfriend, Varvara. Malek is originally from Kharkiv and fled to Lviv, one of the cities least affected by the war because of its Western location, in March.

His only source of income is his artwork, but paintings and exhibitions are of little interest in wartime. Housing has become too expensive for him in Lviv, so he’s settled in a place called ReZavod (“zavod” means factory in Ukranian).

ReZavod in Lviv, Ukraine - photo of a girl and a boy sitting on a couch with red and beige pillows. Both have their phones. The girl wears gray shorts with colourful patterns and a white top with black palm trees. The boy has long hair, wears a green and white shirt with plants and has tattoos on his belly and hands.

Malek and his girlfriend Varvara. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

When you search the address online (31 Zavodska Street), the building -which used to be a medical supply factory - is listed as a bunch of spaces to rent and a nightclub called “Ganok”. It’s a space where people live, work and create; where culture and refuge come together.


You can rent a workshop of up to 120 square metres for less than the cost of an apartment, so a lot of people just live here. I didn’t meet the owners, but it’s clear someone is profiting from the rentals.

ReZavod consists of two four-floor buildings — one grey and one red — connected by a big yard with two clubs and a few former shops. Each floor is divided into multiple artist studios and some are lived in. You enter through the grey building’s cafeteria and there’s a sign reading “All will be Ukraine” in Ukrainian. The place looks more or less like any Soviet building designed to host a lot of people - but with a hipster twist.

The red building is set up as a workplace. The studios here are bigger, allowing for the storage of big pieces of metal and wood. It’s more lively, but also dirtier — even though it’s where the showers are.  

ReZavod in Lviv, Ukraine - photo of a young woman wearing grey shorts, white slippers and a green sweater and holding dishes in a messy room with cleaning products, plastic bags, clothes, etc.

Varvara and the dishes. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

A lot of people end up at ReZavod by chance: Some used to party here, others just happened to pass when they needed a place to stay. People from all walks of life meet here; well-dressed girls, loner guys with their computers, yogis, artists. There are about seven studios per floor, but it’s hard to estimate exactly how many people live here, since a lot of them come and go.


I ended up staying for just over ten days. I arrived on a Monday evening to the sound of club music: Evenings are when ReZavod comes alive, but since there’s an 11PM curfew, noise at night is never an issue.

I stayed with Malek and Varvara on the second floor (people don’t live on the ground floor in Ukraine), nestled between all sorts of workshops and studios. There’s no water supply in the bedrooms, so you have to walk down a long, sinister hallway to use the toilet or brush your teeth.

ReZavod in Lviv, Ukraine - portrait of a topless man wearing blue jeans. He's sitting on a red and beige cushion and staring at the camera. The background is messy, and there's a brick wall.

Dima sitting in Varvara and Malek's room and its walls covered with polystyrene. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

The walls of Malek and Varvara’s room are covered with polystyrene; it must’ve been a music studio in the old days, but now the holes serve as storage for keys and paintbrushes.

They asked me to bring some cheese from France. There was no fridge in their room, though, so they ended up making their own with a bucket and hammer - to keep the cheese under cold water.

Photo of a green bucket on the wooden floor, it's filled with water, some food packaged in aluminium and a hammer.

The DIY fridge with cheese in it. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

At 2AM on the 14th of August, I met Nazar while cooking noodles in our room – he’d just come back from work. Nazar used to be one of the building’s guards, but he now camps in a park and comes over to use the showers. While we were chatting, Varvara came over to charge her disposable vape – a skill she learned in a YouTube video about “life hacks for poor people”, as she puts it.

A photo of an electronic cigarette charging from a club with a DIY system.

Varvara's technique for recharging her vape. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

On the 16th of August, while waiting in line for the showers, I met Assaya - a young woman from Kherson who was staying in the room with all the yogis. I’d heard a lot about the yogis, but hadn’t met any of them yet. Assaya asked me what the toilets in the other building were like. “Worse,” I said. While we spoke, we watched a puppy named Bibamboup wait patiently for his owners in front of the shower doors. When it was finally my turn, the water was cold: Weirdly, you have a better chance of getting hot water later in the day here.

A photo of a showerhead and a tap attached to a beige, dirty wall.

Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

A photo on a man wearing black shorts; a white, red and blue striped shirt and green straps, lying face down on a pile of clothes

Malek in the thrift store. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

In the basement there’s a makeshift thrift store, where volunteers used to come to distribute meals and clothing to refugees at the start of the war. By this point, all that remained was a huge pile of clothes and a few boxes of food.

Another evening my friend Malek introduced me to Dima, a former acrobat and dancer who lost his job because of a medical condition. He works ten hour days on a construction site for a miserable salary, which means he can’t afford the treatment he needs. The more time that passes, the more the his condition worsens from the construction work, but he doesn’t really have a choice.

Two men lying down in a messy room - one is topless, wearing blue jeans, the other one is wearing a black t-shirt and shorts. Both have tattoos. The room has one bed and a mattress with blue and yellow bed sheets on the floor. There's a chair with a grey cushion on it, a water kettle, dishes and random objects on the floor.

Dima and Malek. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

That night, the neighbours invited me to hang out and I met an artist who goes by the name of “ArtBobchik”. His room was decked out with blankets and he showed me an array of blue caps and paints. “Do whatever you like, however you like it,” he said.

I didn’t totally understand everything he was saying, but ArtBobchik wants to make ReZavod more sustainable, basically. According to him, there’s so much potential: One of his architectural paintings depicts what the floor would look like after repurposing it.

A messy room with loads of blue caps on the floor, blankets and bed sheets, a bottle of water, a table with a mug and kitchen stuff on it, a curtain hanging from the roof and a window in the back with a view on nature.

ArtBobchik's room. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

Ultimately, each neighbour showed me a different side of ReZavod. There are few comforts - many people are suffering and can’t wait to leave. But ReZavod is also a place of great resilience and endless possibilities. For people who’ve lost everything, or maybe didn’t have much to begin with, this place offers a unique opportunity to feel at home and make something out of a few square metres.


Scroll down to more pictures from my trip:

Two people cooking instant noodles in a room. We can only see their feet, and the noodles are cooking in a pan while their packages are on a mattress with light blue and yellow bed sheets.

Dinner at ReZavod. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

A collage of two photos. In the left photo: a man and a woman eating food and drinking alcohol on a bed. The girl has brown hair, wears a blue top and grey shorts and holds a knife. The man wears a black t-shirt, has tattoos and he's licking his finger. In the left photo: a black handbag is emptied on a colourful material. We can see a camera, headphones, meds and cosmetics.

Left: Varvara and Malek having breakfast. Right: Varvara's handbag. Photos: Sofiya Loriashvili

A photo of an old ground floor blue-grey building with brown wooden frames and doors. In front are two dark cars parked.

A building between the two main buildings at ReZavod. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili

A yard with paintings on the wall, aa torn Ukrainian flag and a closed down coffee terrace.

The interior yard, also located between the two main buildings. Photo: Sofiya Loriashvili