Space Meduza in Kreuzberg looks as though a child’s fevered dream has exploded onto the walls: kraken arms, fairy lights, glittery jellyfish, and twinkling chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, space nebulae and graffiti-spraying astronauts adorning the walls, clouds of cotton stretching across the bar, bathed in dim light. When you first walk through the door, nothing would suggest you’re at a Ukrainian bar because ‘Ukrainian’ was not the concept the three owners, originally from Kharkiv, had in mind when they opened it. “None of this nostalgic shit. You don’t see any flags here. Now there is one because it’s war,” says Andrew Medwed. Together with his wife Diana Kiprach and band mate Yaroslav Raff, Andrew has been running Space Meduza (медуза: Ukrainian for jellyfish) since December 2018.
“Barely anyone thought this was going to happen. We were shocked”
Andrew came to Berlin six years ago as a musician because he thought – and still thinks – of Berlin as the place to be for creative souls. Only natural that the bar would reflect this view. “We’re all artists, so when we started this place, we wanted it to be an artistic hub,” Andrew explains, “We have a show every night. It’s either stand-up comedy or a movie screening, a music night, a burlesque show – all kinds of arts.” The indistinct chatter of different languages hints at an international clientele. “We were never positioning ourselves as a Ukrainian bar,” Andrew stresses, “it’s a hip place, a party bar.” But since the owners are all from Ukraine, a little Ukrainian community has formed here, nonetheless. Now, they even celebrate Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24. “But the real Independence Day will be when we win this war,” the owner declares triumphantly.
When the Russian invasion started, Andrew found himself in a state of disbelief. “I woke up on February 24, went on Telegram and Facebook and saw explosions. I sat there for thirty minutes, and the news just kept rolling in.” He remembers that many people around him had dismissed the idea of a full invasion as aggressive posturing from Putin. “Barely anyone thought this was going to happen. We were shocked,” he says.
But over the following days, Space Meduza turned into a new mission headquarters. “We all brought our laptops and started coordinating humanitarian aid,” Andrew recalls. By the evening of the first day, clothing, food and medicine had started piling up in the back room and been put in plastic bags to send off. “It was madness, but we knew we had to start doing something right away.”
Initially, the team called off all shows, but quickly saw the potential benefits. “Now the artists collect donations after the show, or sell tickets in advance, but everything goes to special Ukrainian funds, supporting the military, humanitarian aid or medical supplies.” These funds are shared on Space Meduza’s social media channels, such as PLAST Ukrainischer Pfadfinderverbund in Berlin e.V. (Ukrainian Scouts Association in Berlin).
One of the supporting artists is Dave Adams, a comedian from Australia, who challenged the audience to raise €500 in exchange for his beard. “Tonight was about my friends, Andrew, Yaroslav and Diana. When this [invasion] happened, I felt their pain as a friend would. I just wanted to do what I can. I’m a comedian and musician, so I told jokes and sang songs – and shaved my beard!” he says, laughing in disbelief, “They raised €564! I was bluffing, but I’m a man of my word.”
It’s strange seeing Andrew talk about his war-torn country while rolling cigarettes, drinking beer and watching Dave Adams shave his beard on stage as the audience belts out the Ukrainian national anthem. He picked up his father from the Hungarian-Ukrainian border and brought him to Berlin just a few days ago. “When the bombs started hitting neighbouring houses, we decided that he had to move,” he explains calmly. “I’m lucky because my dad is the only one left in my family. Most other people we know have left Kharkiv by now, apart from a lot of older people who can’t be moved because they’re frail or because they just won’t go,” he adds.
This kind of spirit might just be the secret to the incredible Ukrainian resistance, a fundamental determination and willpower that is endlessly cool and collected. The pain, however, is not invisible. “These have been the worst three weeks of my life,” Andrew confesses.
Space Meduza (Skalitzer Str. 80, Kreuzberg) hosts daily movie nights, comedy shows, and music gigs. Grab a glass of wine, a craft beer or a recently renamed “Kyiv Mule”, and enjoy the show. Smokers will find a spacious room in the back furnished with thick sofas and armchairs.