On Ukrainian Hipsters

Though more clean-cut than their historical counterparts in East Berlin, young creatives are leading the city’s turn toward Europe and away from Russia. And, to our delight, they are also on Flickr. For Polarr, Emily von Hoffmann investigates.

Vijai Maheshwari, publisher of the magazine B.East and former editor-in-chief of Playboy Russia, wrote in POLITICO about what he calls the “hipster revolution” happening in Ukraine’s capital city. The aesthetic looks much the same in Ukraine as in other parts of the world: Bikes and artful tattoos are on the rise, designer handbags and expensive cars are on their way out. The most popular bar is named “The Bar.”

Maheshwari describes the Kiev market on Sunday around midday: “T-shirts decorated with slogans like “Putin is a Dick,” “Pray for Ukraine” and “Separatist Buyer’s Club,” flap in the cool summer breeze, alongside harem pants in folk patterns, hoodies emblazoned with the Ukrainian trident, and tons of other creative knick-knacks. A vivacious girl in lensless granny glasses hands us a free cupcake for our ‘good vibrations’ while a bearded barber from the ‘Tommy Gun Barbershop’ offers free shaves.”

Known for its glamorous residents, at least among the wealthiest city dwellers, Kiev has produced hipsters not so subversive that they neglect to shower or iron their sardonic tees. Maheshwari wrote that the present Kiev market does indeed resemble some parts of Berlin — except that the women are prettier, and the tattoos and piercings stop just short of unsightly.

Maheshwari’s article is far from the first documentation of Ukrainians’ changing style. The Economist first observed in 2013 that there seemed to be evidence of a “Hipster Rebellion,” led by the brains behind Gogol’fest, a music festival named for Russian-Ukrainian writerNikolai Gogol. The story ran just a month before President Yanukovych rejected a deal for increased integration with the European Union, prompting the (often pictured) massive Euromaidan protests and gaining the attention of western mainstream media. The same month, the website The Sartorialist published street style entries for the city. Al Jazeera reported earlier in 2015 that Spletni, the “hipster bar “ of Donetsk that closed during the war, was re-opening in Kiev.

The region’s hipsters again went viral during Russia’s invasion of Crimea, when a group with the slogan “Don’t Give it to a Russian,” encouraged women to effectively boycott sex with Russians. Their logo, a pair of feminine hands cupped together to resemble labia, was emblazoned on tees that gained immediate attention online.

Certainly hipsterism in Ukraine existed as a subculture long before it was noticed by western press. Local news and culture site What’s On Kiev ran a feature entitled “Be Your Own Handmade Hipster.” The author, Vadym Mishkoriz, discusses the possibilities for repurposing empty wine bottles, and creating jewelry out of inexpensive materials from craft shops. Likewise, in 2012, the Kiev Post published a story that included tips on how to haggle at the Lesnaya market — the city’s “hipster capital” that was founded in the early 2000s.

Although the POLITICO article quickly inspired moaning and debate on Reddit (regarding the uselessness of ‘hipster’ as a term, the demise of culture that some believe the arrival of hipsters in any place heralds, and prophecies of ruination for the country in general), the views expressed apply more to gentrifiers everywhere than to young people in Kiev.

While modern hipsterism in the States has been derided as disingenuous, mostly driven by the purchase of an identity through conspicuously un-conspicuous consumption, hipsters in Ukraine seem to be of a more traditional strain. They forage in markets and languish in bars, not because they have secret trust funds, but because of real political uncertainty in their nation’s future. Maheshwari writes, “With Russia breathing down their necks, a frozen conflict in the East, and the country caught in an economic death spiral, it makes sense to drink the nights away.”

Interview by Emily von Hoffmann and Polarr — Pro Photo Editor Made for Everyone. Follow Polarr on Twitter and try our products while they are still alive.