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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: