KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — In the capital of Ukraine, a country gripped by a separatist war in the east and an excruciating recession, squats are flourishing and expanding in dozens of historic buildings in the city center.
Nearly a decade ago, Miroslav, a gas industry engineer who declined to give his last name, and his friends put locks on a couple of apartments in an abandoned two-story early 20th century apartment building. The squat, dubbed 17b after the building number, is now arguably Kiev’s best-known.
Miroslav got to know and came to an agreement with the building’s owner, who had no plans either to sell or redevelop the plot. He agreed to let the squatters stay for a nominal fee.
Over the years, Miroslav and his friends moved from one apartment to another, as one wing of the building was redeveloped and another turned into a mini-hotel.
The number of 17b residents has dropped from 20 to five, but the squat’s founders, now in their 30s, have redeveloped the once-dilapidated yard into a rustic cafe that also serves as a space for gigs and exhibitions. The squatters own the cafe and don’t take wages for their work.
“Many find it surprising that people live here,” says Miroslav’s wife, Dasha, who moved in three years ago and runs the 17b cafe. “Some visitors come to the bar and ask if the employees live here. We’re not staff, we don’t have waiters. It’s a place for friends.”
Despite its murky property status, 17b has running water, electricity and central heating in wintertime.
Miroslav and Dasha, who studies Turkish literature, say they are investing their own money in the squat and probably would not have managed if they were penniless students with no independent income.
Pretty much every year Miroslav faces a new kind of communal disaster — a frozen pipe or an electricity blackout — which leaves him with the choice: to pack their bags or to stay and deal with the problems on his own.
“It’s not because he wants to save money on his rent in the center or because he hates change,” Dasha says. “He is truly attached to this place.”
Here’s a gallery of photos by Associated Press photographer Sergei Chuzavkov showing life at 17b.